Category: Religious Liberty

no-religion_designIncreasingly, Americans who adhere to a religion are told they cannot “force their beliefs” on others. Simply stating publicly that one doesn’t believe gays have the right to marry can cost you your career. Literally hundreds of lawsuits are now in motion against the government because employers do not want to be forced to violate their religious beliefs by paying for employees’ contraception and/or abortions.

Richard W. Garnett ponders this topic in today’s Los Angeles Times. Garnett takes the reader back just 20 years, when he says the government did something right:

Lawmakers from both parties and across the political spectrum found common ground and passed, by a near-unanimous vote, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which firmly commits the federal government to protecting and promoting our “inalienable right” to freely exercise religion. As President Clinton remarked when he signed the legislation into law, “the power of God is such that even in the legislative process, miracles can happen.”

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bishop shakenThe American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed suit against the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) regarding a case in a Muskegon, Mich. hospital. According to the ACLU, Tamesha Means was 18 weeks pregnant in December, 2010, when her water broke. A friend brought her to Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon. Ms. Means subsequently made two more trips to this hospital, and her baby, born prematurely, died.

According to a New York Times piece,

…Dr. Douglas W. Laube, an obstetrician at the University of Wisconsin Medical School, described the care Ms. Means received as “basic neglect.” He added, “It could have turned into a disaster, with both baby and mother dying.”

The A.C.L.U. said it had filed suit against the bishops because there had been several cases in recent years in which Catholic hospital policies on abortion had interfered with medical care.

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contraception-253x300Until 2012, no federal law or regulation required employers to cover contraception or abortifacients in their company health plans. But last month a New York Times Times editorial claimed that “the assertion by private businesses and their owners of an unprecedented right to impose the owners’ religious views on workers who do not share them.”

What changed over the course of a year that now makes it a “war on contraceptives” to oppose adding such coverage? As Ramesh Ponnuru explains, it’s not really about contraceptives but an attack on religion:

If 2011 was marked by a widespread crisis of employers’ imposing their views on contraception on employees, nobody talked about it.

What’s actually new here is the Obama administration’s 2012 regulation requiring almost all employers to cover contraception, sterilization and drugs that may cause abortion. It issued that regulation under authority given in the Obamacare legislation.

The regulation runs afoul of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a Clinton-era law. That act says that the government may impose a substantial burden on the exercise of religious belief only if it’s the least restrictive way to advance a compelling governmental interest. The act further says that no later law should be read to trump this protection unless it explicitly says it’s doing that. The Affordable Care Act has no such language.

Is a marginal increase in access to contraception a compelling interest, and is levying steep fines on employers who refuse to provide it for religious reasons the least burdensome way to further it? It seems doubtful.

Read more . . .

contraceptive-mandateThe Supreme Court has agreed to hear a pair of cases that challenge the HHS mandate requiring many private companies to insure contraceptive and abortifacients. The Obama administration asked the high court to review the issue after a federal appeals court in Colorado found in favor of Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma-based crafts franchise. The court will combine the Hobby Lobby case with lesser-known case involving Conestoga, a Pennsylvania company that lost earlier bids for relief from the mandate.

If you haven’t been following the controversy, here’s what you need to know about the mandate:

What is this contraception mandate everyone keeps talking about?

As part of the universal health insurance reform passed in 2010 (often referred to as “Obamacare”), all group health plans must now provide—at no cost to the recipient—certain “preventive services.” The list of services includes sterilization, contraceptives, and abortifacient drugs.

If this mandate is from 2010, why are we talking about it in 2013?

On January 20, 2012, the Obama Administration announced that that it would not expand the exemption for this mandate to include religious schools, colleges, hospitals, and charitable service organizations. Instead, the Administration merely extended the deadline for religious groups who do not already fall within the existing narrow exemption so that they will have one more year to comply or drop health care insurance coverage for their employees altogether and incur a hefty fine

Is there a religious exemption from the mandate? If so, who qualifies for the exemption?
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parsonage (1)On Friday a federal judge ruled that an IRS exemption that gives clergy tax-free housing allowances is unconstitutional. The exemption applies to an estimated 44,000 ministers, priests, rabbis, imams and others. If the ruling stands, some clergy members could experience an estimated 5 to 10 percent cut in take-home pay.

Aside from the question of constitutionality, the clergy exemption raises a question that many people — whether religious or not — are likely to be wondering: Why exactly do ministers receive a tax exemption for their housing allowance?

At the website of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, I explain the historical, legal, and ecclesiological reasons for allowing the exemption and why it’s an issue of religious freedom:
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Politics_Church+StateAccording to World News Daily the federal government has enlisted black church denominations to enroll people into Obamacare.

Enroll America, a Washington-based nonprofit staffed in part by ex-Obama presidential campaign workers, is leading the enrollment campaign which saw just over 100,000 people “sign up” in October. Jessica Kendall, director of outreach for Enroll America, calls the task of signing up America’s uninsured the “largest enrollment effort that has ever been done in our history.” Her group is working with a broad coalition, including hospital associations, labor unions, advocacy groups and religious organizations, to persuade people to submit to Obamacare. Enroll America’s “Health Care from the Pulpit” initiative to churches kicked off Sunday, Oct. 27, with “over 50 events across the country to further engage the faith community in education about enrollment,” according to a press release.

In the black church tradition it is not uncommon for churchgoers to be made aware of social welfare through various means, especially after the rollout for the “War on Poverty” programs. However, this development is particularly interesting because there appear to be official partnerships between the federal government and black church denominations to enroll churchgoers in Obamacare.

According to the article, Ashley Allison, the director of constituency engagement for Enroll America, said her group is encouraging churches “to put announcements in the weekly bulletin and make literature available for people to pick up at church.” Enroll America hosted one training event for African Methodist Episcopal Church leaders in Las Vegas—which seems rather odd. I cannot think of another entitlement program that would train religious leaders to facilitate enrollment in local communities. One has to wonder if the black church is becoming a de facto agency of the federal government with this level of participation in the federal program.
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RTRFNXLThe HHS contraceptive-abortifacient mandate lost another round last week.

“This is a significant victory for protecting the religious beliefs of individuals and corporations,” said Edward White, Senior Counsel of the ACLJ who is representing a family-run business in Illinois. In a 2-1 decision issued Friday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the court reversed the federal district court’s denial of a motion for a preliminary injunction and remanded the case for the district court to enter the preliminary injunction.

What is most encouraging about the decision is the reasoning expressed in the majority opinion. The judges think the HHS mandate is ultimately going to be trumped by the right of religious freedom:

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cardinal timothy dolanThe Unites States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is meeting Nov. 11-13 for their General Assembly.  Out-going USCCB President, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, gave the opening address today, focusing on religious freedom.

He began on a somber note, stating that Christians are killed for their faith at the rate of 17 an hour, every day around the globe, and that more than a billion people live under governments that actively suppress their religious beliefs and expressions. Calling the Middle East the “epicenter” of violence against Christians, Dolan noted persecution is not restricted to that region. (more…)

priest militaryMark Scibilia-Carver, in a National Catholic Reporter “Viewpoint” piece, decries the nationwide call this coming weekend for Catholics to financially support the Archdiocese for the Military Services, which serves the entire U.S. military. That includes “more than 220 installations in 29 countries, patients in 153 V.A. Medical Centers, and federal employees serving outside the boundaries of the USA in 134 countries. Numerically, the AMS is responsible for more than 1.8 million men, women, and children.”

Why is Scibilia-Carver upset? He believes support of the Archdiocese for the Military Services is tantamount to evil and support of any war (and apparently the men and women who keep our country safe) is always unjust. (more…)

contraceptive-mandateThe delivery trucks of Ohio-based Freshway Foods bear signs stating, “It’s not a choice, it’s a child,” as a way to publicly promote the owners’ pro-life views to the public. It wasn’t too surprising, then, that the company and it’s owners, Francis and Philip Gilardi, would be opposed to the Obamacare’s requirement that the health coverage for their nearly 400 full-time workers include abortifacients.

The American Center for Law and Justice helped the Gilardi’s challenge the mandate, arguing that the mandate violated their religious liberties. Today, the D.C. Circuit Court agreed and handed down a ruling that the requirement “trammels” the expression of religious freedom. In the majority opinion the judges ask, “What exactly is the government trying to ameliorate?”
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