Religious Freedom versus the Affordable Care Act

Columbia, MO – This is a fine balance between religious freedoms and women’s health. Should religious organizations or a corporation whose owners’ religious beliefs may be contrary to the provision be exempt from the women’s contraception mandate as found in the Affordable Care Act?

The case of the Little Sisters of the Poor may be the first case to reach the Supreme Court concerning the birth control mandate. The sisters believe that the mandate is contrary to their religious belief and that signing the waiver is tantamount to sanctioning birth control for those employees who wish to have the coverage; again contrary to their beliefs.

This case is different from Hobby Lobby’s law suit on one specific point – Hobby Lobby is a company whose owners happen to be devout Christians. The Little Sisters is a religious organization that happens to provide healthcare to anyone, regardless of faith. The distinction is important here.

First AmendmentWe all know the First Amendment by heart at this point, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” Most of those who use the Amendment to justify their “religious freedoms” seem to neglect the first requirement, that the government cannot establish a national, state or local religion. It is my opinion that even offering an exception organizations od provisions in of the ACA mandating women’s health violates the Establishment clause.

That being said, the government has made such exceptions for certain religious organizations, but not all. If the institution is a house of worship or a school directly associated with a religious organization, then the exemption applies. The question here is if organizations like the Little Sisters fall under this exemption?

I believe that once the Supreme Court elects to hear this case, its decision will narrowly focus on this case alone. Corporations like Hobby Lobby will still have to take their own issues up with the Court, and even then the Justices may set a ruling specific to that corporation.

The major problem is not with religion per se, but with the Court’s unwillingness to provide across the board rulings. Even in the case of the Defense of Marriage Act ruling in 2013, the decision was concerned DOMA only. (Yes, the provision found unconstitutional was the essence of the law and thus took all of the teeth out of DOMA’s purpose, defining a marriage as only between one man and one woman.)

If the Court rules in favor of the Little Sisters, then there will have to be consideration made for all hospitals and health care providers which are sanctioned by religious organizations. On the other hand, if the Court rules in favor of the ACA provision, then all religious institutions would, and should, be required to offer the women’s health mandate.

My argument is that even in the American Catholic Church as many as 90-percent of women either have used some form of birth control or wish to have such medication and treatment available. That not all of the employees or patients of the Little Sisters are conservative Catholics and may not share this particular religious view point. On the other hand, signing the exemption would violate one of the basic principles of the Church and put the nuns in an extremely awkward position.

For those who are a-religious, this would appear to be a no brainer – what is good for the goose is good for the gander and women’s health trumps religious restrictions. In fact, there are many restrictions placed on religions based on public safety as well as our tax codes. For example, snake handling is only illegal in all states, except West Virginia, based on the venomous snakes used, mostly Copperheads and Diamondback rattlers.

For the religious, this is a line in the sand that cannot be crossed siting both their religion and the freedoms provided in the Constitution.

I believe that no one is taking the religious freedoms away from the organizations or individuals who can take the exemption either directly or by signing the waiver. If the Little Sisters wish to be compliant with the law, they should only serve the Catholic community and hire only those who agree with the Church’s position on birth control. There is nothing that I am aware of that could prevent them from doing so. Even the anti-discrimination laws permit religious organizations to hire only those who are either of their faith or agree with their religious principles.  

I believe this is a very important case for the Court to decide but it must decide narrowly to preserve the principles of the First Amendment, by not establishing an all-encompassing religious exemption, but to focus only at the question at hand: Does the ACA’s mandate for women’s contraception outweigh the religious morals of the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged?


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About David Rosman

David is the winner of the Missouri Press Foundation's "Best Columnist" in 2013 (First Place) and 2014 (Second Place), the 2016 Harold Riback Award for excellence in writing, and the winner of the 2007 Interactive Media Award for excellence in editing.
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