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Saturday, Dec 20, 2014
Editorials

An affront to religious freedom and individual rights

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Americans of all faiths should be encouraged the U.S. Supreme Court will scrutinize Obamacare’s unreasonable mandate that corporations must provide health insurance coverage for contraception.

The rule developed by the Department of Health and Human Services as part of the Affordable Care Act represents an insidious attack on religious freedom and individual conscience.

It requires employers offering health insurance plans to provide free contraception coverage, even if that violates the company owners’ religious beliefs.

And the coverage must include the morning-after pill, which the Catholic Church and other faiths consider the equivalent of an abortion.

Despite religious groups’ objections, the administration has been reluctant to relent on what its officials consider necessary preventive care for women.

President Obama’s team eventually did provide a narrow exemption for religiously affiliated organizations. Still, it insisted free contraception coverage be provided to employees of faith-based organizations, with the artful caveat that the insurance company pay for it.

This, of course, did nothing to change the fact that these operations were being forced to provide coverage its leaders found morally offensive.

The administration has refused to provide even that kind of flimsy concession to the owners of for-profit corporations, which are behind the two challenges to the law that go before the high court, probably in March, with a final decision in June.

The high court decided to weigh in on the matter after three federal courts ruled against the mandate and two upheld it.

Of particular concern is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, adopted in 1993, which allows the government to restrict an individual’s exercise of religion only if there is a “compelling government interest” and it is done in the “least restrictive” way.

Clearly, the government is not trying to minimize the effects of its dictates on people whose faith opposes the use of contraceptions.

The administration holds that the corporations, not individuals, are required to comply with the law, so the religious freedom act would not apply.

That’s a distinction that suggests corporations are free of human direction.

The D.C. Court of Appeals saw through this ruse in early November when it held the Obamacare mandate violated the religious freedom of two Catholic store owners.

Judge Janice Rogers Brown, who wrote the sharply worded majority position, aptly framed the dilemma confronting Francis and Philip Gilardi as they sought to provide health care coverage for the 400 workers in their Ohio grocery stores.

“They can either abide by the sacred tenets of their faith, pay a penalty of over $14 million, and cripple the companies they have spent a lifetime building, or they become complicit in a grave moral wrong.”

She sharply rebuked the government’s argument that the simple use of a state’s incorporation law would cause an individual right, such as the exercise of religion, to “disappear into the ether.”

Brown concluded there was no evidence any ill would result from allowing business owners to opt out of the contraceptive requirement based on their religious beliefs.

She stressed, “... it was Congress, and not the courts, that allowed for an individual’s religious conscience to prevail over substantially burdensome federal regulation.”

(It may be notable that Senate Republicans’ rejection of Obama appointees to this appeals court triggered the elimination of the filibuster rule by Senate Democrats.)

We hope the Supreme Court justices view the matter as lucidly as Brown.

A federal government that forces business owners to act against their faith and conscience on critical life issues is in dire need of restraint.

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