Split decision on contraception mandate

Two different federal appeals courts have issued opposite rulings on whether Obamacare can force company owners to violate their religious beliefs by providing contraception and Morning After Pills to their employees.  One court has ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby’s lawsuit, but another has ruled against Conestoga Wood Specialities, which is owned by Mennonites.  Such conflicting rulings at this level often lead to the Supreme Court. From Robert Barnes,  Contraceptive mandate divides appeals courts – The Washington Post:

A federal appeals court ruling on Friday increased the chances that the Supreme Court in its coming term will need to settle whether secular, for-profit corporations must provide contraceptive coverage to employees despite the owners’ religious objections.

A divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit ruled that a Pennsylvania cabinet-making company owned by a Mennonite family must comply with the contraceptive mandate contained in the Affordable Care Act.

The majority said it “respectfully disagrees” with judges in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver, who recently narrowly found just the opposite. A split in interpreting federal statutes is usually an invitation for the Supreme Court to resolve the issue.

This one is novel: The justices have never said whether a secular corporation is protected by the Constitution or federal statute from complying with a law because of religious objections from its owners.

The 3rd Circuit majority noted that the court has numerous times — most recently in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission — found that corporations have free speech rights. But it said there was a “total absence of caselaw” to support the argument that corporations are protected by the Constitution’s guarantee of free exercise of religion.

“Even if we were to disregard the lack of historical recognition of the right, we simply cannot understand how a for-profit, secular corporation — apart from its owners — can exercise religion,” wrote Circuit Judge Robert E. Cowen, who was joined by Circuit Judge Thomas I. Vanaskie.

Cowen said it did not seem plausible that an entity “created to make money could exercise such an inherently ‘human’ right.”

Circuit Judge Kent A. Jordan said in a dissent twice as long as the majority opinion that if there is a lack of case law establishing a corporation’s religious rights, “that is in all probability because there has never before been a government policy that could be perceived as intruding on religious liberty as aggressively as the mandate.”

So making money isn’t inherently human?  Notice how the state would be defining what religion has to be:  namely, a private, individual matter that is not allowed to impinge upon the external world.  Nevermind that such an approach to religion is quite new, with virtually all religious hroughout all history and all cultures having a communal, collective, and corporate dimension.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.


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