A friend has drawn my attention to an item in Catholic World Report for 17 December by Carl E Olson that I missed: “Federal judge strikes down contraception mandate; calls healthcare law “totally ineffective””. My friend, who lives in New York, calls it a “good Christmas gift.” And so it is.
The judge in question, Brian Cogan of the US district court for the eastern district of New York, has ruled that President Obama’s Mandate in his “Obamacare” legislation viz. that religious organisations must provide free contraceptive insurance for all their employees, “directly compels plaintiffs through the threat of onerous penalties, to undertake actions that their religious faith forbids. There is no way that a court can, or should, determine that a coerced violation of conscience is of insufficient quantum to merit constitutional protection.”
The Mandate, which is deeply controversial and which has given rise to many protests by religious bodies in the US since it was first proposed, had stated that only a very narrow group, dioceses and houses of worship such as churches, would be exempt from the legislation. Thus, thus all faith-based care organisations such as charities, hospitals and schools – of which the US has many – would be effectively required to “violate their consciences and co-operate in providing contraceptive coverage by “self-certifying” their religious objections, thereby triggering their third party administrators to provide the contraceptive coverage.”
Now Judge Cogan has ruled that such co-operation violates federal law and that “those non-exempt entities would suffer “injury” because the Mandate renders them complicit in a scheme aimed at providing coverage to which they have a religious objection.” In other words, the right not to be compelled by law to an action your conscience, guided by your religious faith, forbids has been upheld. It is a small but significant victory for all religious groups in the US, not just the Catholics, who have long objected to this aspect of “Obamacare.”
Olsen comments that “The court has correctly cut through the artificial construct which essentially made faith-based organisations other than churches and other houses of worship second class citizens with second-class First Amendment protections. “ He pointed out that religious freedom is the “First Freedom” guaranteed by the constitution of the United States. He adds, “This decision wisely and properly affirms that this freedom must extend beyond merely being free to choose how we worship and must include how we act in accord with our religious beliefs.”
The Archdiocese of New York has responded that it “welcomes and applauds Judge Brian Cogan’s thoughtful decision and order that holds that so-called non exempt religious agencies have religious freedom rights and are therefore not bound by the Affordable Care Act’s requirement to provide in their health insurance plans coverage for contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization, as well as counselling as respects these objectionable products and services.”
This ruling sends out a signal that “Obamacare”, for all its determination to coerce all employers to provide insurance for their employees’ private sex lives, cannot presume to force its citizens to act against their conscience. Christmas presents certainly come in different shapes and forms.