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Monday, Sep 01, 2014
Editorials

Editorial: A triumph for religious freedom

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Liberals are characterizing the U.S. Supreme Court’s Affordable Care Act ruling Monday as a threat to women’s health and workers’ rights. It is nothing of the sort.

The thoughtful decision provides powerful and necessary protections for Americans’ freedom of religion against an overreaching federal law that would smother acts of individual conscience.

At issue in the two cases — one involving Hobby Lobby Stores, the other, Conestoga Wood Specialties — was the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that businesses provide insurance covering contraception, including forms of birth control such as morning-after pills that some religions view as akin to abortion.

The companies held that the requirement violated the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 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.

The five justices rightly saw Obamacare forced business owners to violate their religious beliefs to comply with the law. The findings were narrow, and the decision made clear that it did not provide shelter for those who may oppose, say, vaccinations or taxes, on religious grounds.

In writing the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito dismissed the government’s claim that the religious freedom act was not intended to protect for-profit corporations.

He wrote “... that would leave merchants with a difficult choice: give up the right to seek judicial protection of their religious liberty or forgo the benefits of operating as corporations.”

He said the act’s text made clear that Congress intended to “provide very broad protection for religious liberty” and did not intend to force such a choice on merchants.

The decision observed that the act included corporations within the definition of persons and “the purpose of extending rights to corporations is to protect the rights of people associated with the corporation, including shareholders, officers, and employees.”

The majority opinion acknowledged the Department of Health and Human Services’ regulations could represent a “compelling government interest,” but the enforcement of this measure represented an onerous and unfair burden.

Alito wrote: “If the owners comply with the HHS mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions, and if they do not comply, they will pay a very heavy price — as much as $1.3 million per day, or about $475 million per year, in the case of one of the companies. If these consequences do not amount to a substantial burden, it is hard to see what would.”

Moreover, the conflict easily could have been avoided if the administration had provided business owners the same accommodation as nonprofit religious groups. Obamacare forces insurers of these nonprofits to provide contraceptives without charging premiums to employers or copayments to workers.

The government clearly made no effort to find the “least restrictive” way to pursue its goal. Indeed, throughout this legal battle, the administration has seemed more concerned with appeasing the pro-abortion crowd than finding a reasonable solution.

There seemed to be little concern that the citizens who believe terminating life at any stage is a mortal sin were being forced by Washington to offer their employees life-ending morning-after pills.

Unfortunately, President Barack Obama appears unbending. The White House ignored the justices’ thoughtful findings when responding to the decision: “We believe that the owners of for-profit companies should not be allowed to assert their personal religious views to deny their employees federally mandated benefits.”

It was characteristic of an administration that routinely attempts to pit one group against another. The court, in contrast, focused on individual rights, including the right, as Alito put it, for men and women to “run their businesses ... in the manner required by their religious beliefs.”

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