When the Supreme Court rules on Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell, the case involving the Obama administration's attempt to force the nuns to pay for health insurance that includes abortion-inducing drugs, will the high court endeavor to explain to the nuns that they have the tenets of their faith all wrong and need the government to explain them properly?
Rabbi Mitchell Rocklin and lawyer Howard Slugh, who presented an amicus brief in support of the nuns, say in an article at NRO that the court may argue that the nuns misunderstand their religion:
The Obama administration’s interpretation of religious liberty would devastate free-exercise protections and relegate minority religions to second-class status. The danger posed by this interpretation has already manifested itself in a lower-court decision.
The administration maintains that courts should reject religious-liberty claims unless a judge determines that “as a matter of law,” a plaintiff would suffer a “substantial” theological burden if he did not receive an exemption.
The Supreme Court will rule on that interpretation of religious liberty in an upcoming case: Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell. In the Little Sisters case, the Obama administration urges the Court to deny nuns an exemption from the mandate that requires them to provide their employees with abortion-inducing drugs.
According to the administration, the Court should conclude that, contrary to the nuns’ claims, complying with the mandate is insufficiently burdensome, theologically speaking, to warrant an exemption.
Allowing the Supreme Court to second-guess nuns’ theological conclusions is absurd and contrary to Supreme Court precedent.
The Supreme Court held in a previous case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, that the Health and Human Services mandate at issue in the Little Sisters' case would have placed a substantial burden on the consciences of the owners of Hobby Lobby. Quite rightly, the Court did not seek to lecture or set straight the business owners on their religious beliefs.
The same was true in Holt v. Hobbs, which ruled that a Muslim prisoner had the right to wear a beard in prison. Again quite rightly, the court didn't attempt to investigate Muslim teaching and custom about beards.
But in a troubling ruling, in the case of Ben-Levi v. Brown, the court did enter into theological arguments that are rightly outside its purview. A Jewish prisoner had wanted to meet for religious study each week, and theFourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against him, wrongly arguing that Judaism did not support such study. It is none of the court's business to rule on what a religion does or does not teach. That is an abrogation of the right of religious liberty. (The Supreme Court refused to hear the case, with Justice Alito dissenting.)
Mitchell and Slugh write:
The court’s specific misunderstanding — as baffling as it may be — is mostly beyond the point. The court’s confusion highlights why judges should not be in the business of deciding theological questions. That might be the role of Saudi Arabian courts, but it is not the role of the American judiciary.
The administration's attempt to to strong arm the nuns into paying for something that violates their consciences (I'm taking their word for it) is despicable. It could hamper their ability to provide shelter and support for the indigent elderly. it is truly baffling. Unless of course the administration is using this draconian policy to assert that government mandates supersede the right to religious liberty.