Sunday, July 19, 2015

212.2 - Good News: court finds that invoking God does not automatically exempt you from following laws

Good News: court finds that invoking God does not automatically exempt you from following laws

Another bit of good news comes from another court, this one the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled on July 14 that a Catholic order of nuns called Little Sisters of the Poor, which runs about 30 nursing homes around the country, must comply with the Affordable Care Act and allow their employees to obtain contraception coverage through a third-party insurer.

The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, requires most employers other than houses fo worship to cover the full range of contraception in their employee health plans at no out-of-pocket cost to the women. Because of right-wing screeching about the horrible, horrible, birth control involved - hey folks, we told you years ago they would not stop at abortion - an exemption was written into the law allowing religiously-based nonprofits, such as the Little Sisters, to opt out of covering birth control if it is against their beliefs. All they have to do is file a form with the federal government saying so. In those cases, the government directs the third-party insurer to provide the contraception coverage.

The Little Sisters sued over the rule because they said even filling out that form makes them complicit in providing birth control, even if they don't have to pay for or even cover it. Put more clearly, they not only wanted to be able to refuse to pay for birth control, not only to be able to refuse to cover birth control, they wanted to be able to actively hinder their employees' ability to get birth control by preventing the third-party coverage requirement from kicking in.

Well, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals knocked that down, ruling that the accommodation carved out for groups such as them is "as easy as obtaining a parade permit, filing a simple tax form, or registering to vote." In fact, it may be easier than the latter two since there is no requirement that you show how providing birth control coverage is against your religion; all you have to do is declare it. There is no hearing before a hostile board like those who claimed conscientious objector status under the draft law had to go through.

What's more, the court found, the requirement to file the form "does not substantially burden their religious exercise under RFRA [i.e., the Religious Freedom Restoration Act] or infringe upon their First Amendment rights."

The cost of the group's suit is being borne by a right-wing legal outfit called the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, whose concept of "religious liberty" is pretty much that both businesses and individuals should be free to discriminate against anyone they want and ignore any laws they don't like so long as they claim that God said so. In response to the ruling, Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the fund, claimed this is a case of "the world’s most powerful government insist[ing] that it must crush the Little Sisters’ faith" which surely ranks among the most hyperbolic statements of recent times.

Or maybe it was just the frustrated rantings of a loser. In either case, this blow against the increasingly-argued notion that invoking God automatically frees you from any legal or social obligations is good news.

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