Under pressure from religious and conservative groups, the Obama administration has offered another compromise on the issue of birth control coverage within the Affordable Care Act. While exempting churches and some religiously affiliated institutions, such as hospitals and universities, from supplying the coverage, the new proposal calls for their employees to receive stand-alone private insurance policies providing birth control coverage at no cost. Insurance companies will foot the bill, but only the naive can possibly think the cost won't find its way back to the institution in the form of higher health premiums.
Numerous lawsuits filed against this and other portions of "Obamacare" will proceed and for good reason: the federal government seems intent on setting rules on matters of conscience and worse, defining what constitutes a church, or religious institution.
One of the litigants is Hobby Lobby, a chain of craft stores, whose CEO, David Green, is an evangelical Christian. Green says, "We simply cannot abandon our religious beliefs to comply with this mandate." That mandate includes, in addition to contraceptive coverage in employees' health care, "preventive services," including "morning-after" pills and other drugs, which Green considers abortifacients. After Hobby Lobby's appeal to Justice Sonia Sotomayor was rejected, the Christian Post reports the company then made plans to "...shift the beginning of its employee health plan to temporarily avoid $1.3 million a day in fines for each day since Jan. 1 that it did not comply with the Affordable Care Act." (According to the new health care law, businesses with more than 50 employees that refuse to comply can be fined by the IRS $100 per day per employee.) Hobby Lobby's appeals continue.
The core issue as I see it -- and there are others -- is whether the government has the right to define a church as a building in which people congregate on Sundays and whether a private company headed by a religious person qualifies for conscience exemptions. For government to decide such things violates the establishment and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment, which state "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." and appears to put the state in the position of supreme authority and arbiter of what constitutes "legitimate" religious faith and practice. The Supreme Court will likely have to resolve its constitutionality.
Permit me to offer the justices some assistance.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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