Faith organizations tutor Supremes on sincerely held beliefs

By Bob Unruh


The U.S. Supreme Court justices have been issued a First Amendment tutorial that shows how the Obama administration can ensure that employee insurance plans cover abortion pills without violating the religious liberty of nuns and threatening them with “financial ruin.”

“The government can get contraceptive coverage to petitioners’ employees – and can even do so through the same insurance companies with which some petitioners contract – without demanding, on pain of massive penalties, that petitioners take steps to comply with the contraceptive mandate,” contended a brief filed by the Alliance Defending Freedom in support of the Little Sisters of the Poor.

The court last month heard oral arguments in the case brought by the nuns, who are being threatened by the government with $70 million a year in fines for refusing to allow their employee health insurance program to pay for abortion pills as Obamacare requires.

They also refuse to sign over distribution of the drugs to the government, arguing that to authorize such actions is the same as carrying them out.

ADF’s brief says the government can achieve its objective without requiring the nuns “to surrender their health plans to serve as vehicles for the provision of contraceptive coverage.”

“There is thus no reason to allow the government to continue to threaten petitioners with financial ruin unless and until they take steps that concededly violate their sincere religious beliefs.”

From the past president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons is available some critically important advice, “Surviving the Medical Meltdown: Your Guide to Living Through the Disaster of Obamacare.”

WND reported the Supreme Court, after oral arguments in the case, had asked both sides to address the issue of how the government can deliver contraceptives, including those that cause abortion, to women across America.

The government wants to piggyback its program on existing health care programs, but the Little Sisters of the Poor and others object because facilitating abortion violates their Christian beliefs.

The Obama administration has argued essentially that it can decide for faith groups what violates their faith.

“The Supreme Court asked if any way exists to offer contraceptive and abortifacient coverage without making Christian schools, nuns, and priests complicit in providing them,” said Gregory Baylor, a senior counsel for ADF.

“The answer we gave the court today is yes. There are many ways in which all women could receive cost-free contraceptive coverage that wouldn’t require involvement by religious non-profit groups. The government could offer separate avenues for contraception coverage that do not in hijack the non-profits’ insurance plans. The Supreme Court should rule in favor of the non-profits in light of the numerous means the government has to achieve its objectives without violating anyone’s religious liberty.”

The government’s intent to deliver abortion pills could be satisfied if it would work directly with insurance companies to create “contraceptive-only” plans, the brief argues.

“There is no reason for the government to insist, on pain of massive penalties, that petitioners abandon their sincerely held religious beliefs when the government can achieve its ends through other means,” the brief contends. “The substantial burden that the government’s current arrangement undoubtedly places on petitioners’ religious exercise thus is simply not the ‘least restrictive means of furthering [a] compelling government interest.'”

The brief states the government can require insurance companies to make abortion pills available, but, constitutionally, cannot require religious groups to facilitate the delivery – either with their own health coverage policies or through cooperation with the government.

“Not only can the government effectuate such a scheme without involving petitioners; it can – and under RFRA must – do so without involving petitioners’ plans,” the brief says.

“To be clear, that is not to say that petitioners endorse such an approach as a policy matter. Many of them most emphatically do not, as they sincerely believe that the use of some or all forms of contraception is immoral, and they are hardly indifferent to efforts to encourage or facilitate that use. For that reason, petitioners may disagree as a policy matter with government programs, such as Title X, that make contraceptives or abortifacients more widely available to their own employees or anyone else.

“And petitioners certainly have the right, protected by the First Amendment, to make that disagreement known.

“At the same time, however, petitioners do not object under RFRA to every regulatory scheme in which the employees of a petitioner with an insured plan can obtain contraceptive coverage from the same insurance company with which the employer has contracted to provide a health plan,” the brief explained.

“Petitioners simply object to having to play a morally impermissible role in the process through which those insurance companies (or anyone else) might provide contraceptive coverage to their employees.”

Little Sisters are Supreme Court (Image courtesy Becket Fund)
Little Sisters are Supreme Court (Image courtesy Becket Fund)

From the past president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons is available some critically important advice, “Surviving the Medical Meltdown: Your Guide to Living Through the Disaster of Obamacare.”

The nuns contend that if the government wants to deliver abortion pills to Americans, it has many ways to do so without involving them at all.

Federal attorneys, however, claim that the nuns, by declining to sign over the authority for some parts of their health-care plan, are insisting that the government not provide the abortion-causing drugs.

The Becket Fund, representing the nuns, has said the justices “pressed the government with hard questions on why it is trying to force the sisters to violate their religious beliefs when it has chosen to exempt so many other employers from the mandate.”

The Becket report said “the government specifically stated that it not only believes it can force its scheme on the Little Sisters, but also on churches and other houses of worship – making them help provide ‘seamless’ coverage for services like the week-after pill.”

The nuns, whose order is 175 years old, serve the elderly poor through their worldwide retirement centers. The Obama administration is forcing them to subscribe to the abortion mandate, even though it previously has exempted major corporations such as Exxon, Pepsi and Chevron.

The nuns already had argued publicly that the solution isn’t complicated.

“There is a simple solution that addresses the Little Sisters’ moral concern and the government’s stated goal: offer these services as an add-on through ACA’s healthcare exchange like dental insurance and other add-ons. That is what the exchanges were created to do, and this would provide access to all women in America (i.e., those in religious plans and secular ones HHS has already exempted). This is a much better solution than continuing to try to force only religious groups with an objection to these services to offer them,” they explain on a website dedicated to their defense.

According to NBC News, the court appeared headed for a 4-4 tie, a scenario on which WND reported.

The arguments consolidated cases from the Third, Fifth, 10th, and D.C. circuits, and if the vote ends up 4-4, due to the absence of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, the lower-court rulings, most of which favored the administration, will stand. In case of a tie, three of the decisions would favor the government, and the fourth would not, leaving a conflict among the circuits.

From the past president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons is available some critically important advice, “Surviving the Medical Meltdown: Your Guide to Living Through the Disaster of Obamacare.”

NBC noted the White House has exempted churches but has refused to exempt other nonprofit groups such as the nuns.

A recent filing by the nuns charged the White House believes it can make anyone, including churches, pay for abortion.

Regarding the exemption for churches, the brief explained: “The government insists that it does so as a matter of administrative grace and ‘special solicitude’ for churches, and that nothing in RFRA requires the exemption. Thus, in the government’s view, it could eliminate the exemption for churches tomorrow. That is astonishing enough, but it fails to grapple with the reality that by granting the exemption the government has already conceded that it does not have a compelling interest in demanding compliance from religious employers who are more likely to hire people who share their religious objections.

“But the government has no more compelling interest in demanding compliance from petitioners, who share the same statutory entitlement to hire people who share their own faith as the exempted employers,” the brief said. “Nor can the government escape the reality that the mandate’s secular exemptions and the government’s own concessions regarding them doom its least-restrictive means defense. The government claims that asking whatever subset of petitioners’ employees who actually want contraceptive coverage to obtain it through an exchange would ‘inflict tangible injury’ that cannot be tolerated. But the government itself champions the exchanges not a dozen pages earlier in its brief as one of several acceptable paths through which the tens of millions of employees whose employers are already exempt can obtain contraceptive coverage.”

Others to be affected by the decision who have brought lawsuits include Christian Brothers Services, Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust, Houston Baptist and East Texas Baptist Universities, Reaching Souls International, Truett-McConnell College, GuideStone Financial Services of the Southern Baptist Convention, Geneva College, Southern Nazarene University, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington and the Most Reverend David A. Zubik.

A friend-of-the-court brief from the Thomas More Law Center said if the appeal is lost, the government “becomes the head of every religious denomination in the country by its assumed authority to determine what is in fact a sin.”


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