Are the Little Sisters sincere enough?
A federal judge has upheld the concept of “sincere religious belief” in a court case dealing with objections to the Obama Administration’s “contraceptive mandate.”
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ruled Thursday that the mandate, which requires most employers to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives, violates the rights of religiously affiliated employers by forcing them to help provide contraceptive coverage even though they do not have to pay for it, Reuters reported. In a pair of decisions, the court upheld orders by two lower courts barring the government from enforcing the law’s contraceptive provisions against a group of religiously affiliated employers, the wire service said.
The law allows religiously affiliated non-profit employers to opt out of paying for contraceptive coverage directly. Once they do, insurers must provide the coverage separately at no extra cost to the employee. Employers that do not follow the opt-out process face a financial penalty.
Thursday’s decision affects Heartland Christian College and addiction services non-profit CNS International Ministries Inc, both based in Missouri, and Dordt College and Cornerstone University, both in Iowa. They object to certain forms of contraception that also act as abortifacients, and also say that the opt-out process stipulated by the law violates a 1993 federal law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The Obama Administration has offered religious employers several options to avoid directly paying for contraceptive coverage, but groups such as the Little Sisters of the Poor argue that signing the paperwork involved would still make them complicit in the sin of facilitating contraceptive use.
Reuters reported that Circuit Judge Roger Wollman, who wrote Thursday’s decisions on behalf of a three-judge panel, said the court must defer to the employers’ “sincere religious belief that their participation in the accommodation process makes them morally and spiritually complicit in providing abortifacient coverage.”
The Becket Fund for Religious Freedom noted in a press release that the US Supreme Court will soon decide whether to take up HHS mandate cases involving the Little Sisters of the Poor, Houston Baptist and East Texas Baptist Universities, and other religious ministries.
“Although the government argued that the ministries were being paranoid and that it was simply asking them for signatures on a piece of meaningless paper, the court both refused to second guess the ministries’ beliefs and saw through the government’s argument,” the Becket Fund said, quoting Wollman’s decision that If it was just a meaningless form, “there would be no need to insist on [the ministries’] compliance with” the government’s demands.
“The government has many ways to achieve its goals without trampling over religious freedom,” said Becket Fund Senior Counsel Lori Windham. “Today’s decision correctly protects the rights of religious ministries serving the most vulnerable in our society.”