For those who thought that the recent Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act (or as it’s more popularly known “Obamacare”) would be the final word on whether it was Constitutional, think again. The fight is far from over. We know the popular debate will continue to rage about whether the decision was a good one. A myriad of issues, from the new ability of Congress to enforce its whims on the populace by calling it’s penalties for non-compliance a “tax”, to whether the now mandatory health insurance should be considered a collateral asset, remain to be seen. And then there’s the upcoming election. Move over economy, time to make room for healthcare too…
But I digress. The real fight has yet to occur and it’s a big one. The next Constitutional challenges to be made to at least parts of Obamacare are over religious liberty.
After Obamacare was passed and people actually got a chance to read it, certain facts started coming to light. The most egregious of them had to do with the funding of, and provisions for contraception, sterilization and abortion services. These services were to be provided by all health insurance carriers, no exceptions (even those sneaky religious organizations that self-insure). With that in mind, early in 2012 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services handed down a mandate that all health care plans cover contraceptive and sterilization procedures at no cost to the patient. Uproar ensued when several religious organizations, the Catholic Church being the biggest of them, protested the imposition of this mandate. Enforcement of the mandate is carried out through heavy fines with no exemption made for religious institutions. So churches, synagogues, mosques and other faith based organizations: violate your conscience or pay up!
I swear I thought there was something in the Constitution about that… oh yes, that pesky First Amendment. You know that wall of separation the left keeps screaming about? Well, “I want it both ways” lefties, you can’t have it both ways. Either it’s there, or it isn’t. If it is, then keep your HHS mandates off my church! Hmmm, that would make a great bumper sticker…
On January 25, 2012, US Catholic Bishops wrote letters to their parishioners about this mandate, bringing it to the forefront of the news. In a letter written by then Archbishop of Baltimore and Cardinal Designate, Edwin F. O’Brien, the faithful were educated as to what this HHS mandate required of religious institutions.
In part, Archbishop O’Brien said, “The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that almost all employers, including Catholic employers, will be forced to offer their employees’ health coverage that includes sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraception. Almost all health insurers will be forced to include those ‘services’ in the health policies they write. And almost all individuals will be forced to buy that coverage as a part of their policies… we…will be compelled either to violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so).”
Immediately the left leaning main stream media kicked into gear and made this into a vendetta by the religious right against women’s health care, and the people by and large fell for it. The venom that spewed from the left was awful. If you were a person of faith, you were a woman hater. If you were a woman and supported the Church on the issue, well God help you because you, madam, were a traitor of the worst stripe! The truth of the First Amendment issue was drowned out loudly and quickly, until finally it seemed to go away. Nothing could be further from the truth. Lawsuits were quietly being filed, 23 of them so far.
The issues that religious organizations have with this mandate have nothing to do with women’s health. The outrage has everything to do with government dictating to a religious organization that they must comply with a policy that violates their conscience. Last I checked the First Amendment said “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” That HHS mandate certainly sounds like a law that prohibits the free exercise of religion.
If a religious organization decides to stick to their guns and not to violate their conscience, then they pay fines. These fines are so large that many religious charitable organizations and churches that provide services like feeding the poor and housing the homeless will have to close their doors. Nice choice, huh? Talk about a rock and a hard place.
But it goes beyond that. If this is allowed to stand, what would stop government from passing laws that forbade churches from speaking out on other matters of conscience, such as same sex marriage? In other countries, Canada being one, laws have been passed that make speaking out or even reading Scripture against homosexuality a hate crime. Is that where we are headed? This violates not only the spirit of the First Amendment, but the letter of it as well. To say otherwise is specious.
As those 23 separate lawsuits work their way through the Federal Courts and finally get to the Supreme Court, let’s hope that the Chief Justice has his Constitution in front of him…and this time he actually reads it!