The Obama Administration’s coercive “HHS mandate,” which forces employers to provide insurance coverage of life-ending drugs and devices such as “emergency contraception,” has been dealt another loss, this time from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
The decision is significant not just because it represents another loss in an “Obamacare” case, but also because the court minced no words when it came to supporting religious liberties and the freedom of conscience.
In Korte v. Sebelius (and a companion case, Grote v. Sebelius), the court ruled late on Friday in favor of the two plaintiff Catholic families and their businesses involved in the cases. In each case, a lower court had originally ruled against the plaintiffs and denied injunction relief.
Before the Seventh Circuit were two substantial questions: 1) whether a for-profit, secular business qualifies as a “person” for purposes of religious liberties protections provided in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and 2) whether the HHS mandate substantially burdens individual plaintiffs or their businesses. The court answered “yes” to both questions, meaning that an injunction protecting the plaintiffs from the coercive effect of the HHS mandate is necessary.
The court explained that the purpose of RFRA was to “reaffirm our national commitment to the ‘free exercise of religion as an unalienable right.’” The court explained that while no one doubts that organizational associations can engage in religious practice (and courts have recognized this), the government was trying to “draw the line at religiously affiliated nonprofit corporations,” not allowing for-profit secular corporations to maintain similar religious freedoms. The court noted that “this line is nowhere to be found in the text of RFRA or any related act of Congress.” In other words, the government has been arguing for an arbitrary line without any statutory or constitutional support.
The court subsequently stated:
It’s common ground that nonprofit religious corporations exercise religion in the sense that their activities are religiously motivated. So unless there is something disabling about mixing profit-seeking and religious practice, it follows that a faith-based, for-profit corporation can claim free-exercise protection to the extent that an aspect of its conduct is religiously motivated.
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The court also stated that the government’s line of argument was extraordinary because it would leave religious exercise wholly unprotected in the commercial sphere, and was premised on a far-too-narrow view of religious freedom: that religious exercise is protected in the home and the house of worship, but not beyond. But the court recognized that people do not practice their faith in compartmentalized ways. The government’s view would, the court related, force commonplace religious practices normally thought protected to fall outside the scope of the free-exercise right.
And that is exactly the crux of what is at stake in this HHS mandate cases. Forcing employers to provide insurance coverage of life-ending drugs and devices is not just an “abortion” issue. It strikes at the very heart of the conscience protections that have been revered from the founding of our nation.
Thankfully, the Seventh Circuit saw the danger and ruled against the Obama Administration.