The Supreme Court Wednesday hears oral arguments in Little Sisters of the Poor vs. Burwell, a landmark religious liberty case.
The Little Sisters of the Poor are an order of nuns who provide care for the indigent elderly. The Obama administration, as you probably know, is absolutely determined that the nuns either pay for coverage of contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs or procedures or sign off on paying in a way that the nuns say still makes them complicit in acts they regard as gravely immoral. The nuns aren't the only group objecting. The Catholic University of America and the Archdiocese of Washington, along with other organizations, say that the government is trying to make them violate their consciences with regard to purchasing health insurance for employees.
In the past in the United States, we were considered guardians of our own consciences. If a Quaker said he could not fight, the country took his word for it. But in the Obama years, things appear to have changed. The administration has given the nuns a supposed out that they say it still makes them complicit in something they regard as gravely sinful.
Never mind, says the administration to the nuns, you don't get to be the guardian of your consciences. The government will be the guardian of your conscience. Why doesn't the government just bug off and let the nuns (and other Americans who have moral objections to aspects of the Affordable Care Act) act in accord to their consciences?
John Garvey, president of the Catholic University of America, has an excellent piece this morning in the Wall Street Journal explaining one reason it has become so important for the administration to bend the nuns to its will. It started with a subterfuge:
When the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, President Obama vowed that he wouldn’t let it be used for federal funding of abortions. That promise was necessary to get the law passed. Bart Stupak, a congressman at the time, and a small group of pro-life Democrats provided the necessary votes. In regulations implementing the act, HHS has chosen a different, and more offensive, way to fund abortions: It makes Catholic and other religious employers pay for them.
It is common knowledge that the Catholic Church has taught the immorality of abortion and contraceptive use for millennia. Yet the regulations in question force our institutions to pay for insurance that covers abortifacients like Ella and Plan B, plus prescription contraceptives and surgical sterilizations.
Some people defend these regulations by pointing out that they don’t make anyone get an abortion or use contraceptives. The regulations only require employers to provide insurance, leaving decisions about reproductive health up to individual employees. But we believe it is wrong to cooperate with evil acts, even if we are not the primary actor.
The government has offered to solve the problem for scrupulous employers by moving them one step further away from the wrongful act. Many employers, like Catholic University, hire an insurance company to handle their employees’ health claims. In return, we pay our insurer an annual premium, set to cover our usual claims experience. HHS proposes that instead of paying for abortions (and other objectionable services) ourselves, we can opt out, and the government will direct our insurance company to pay. The regulations add that the payments can’t come out of our premiums.
Yep, it's that simple: the administration needs the nuns and other conscientious objectors to pay up–the solvency of this massive and jerrybuilt Affordable Care Act is partially dependent on making Americans violate their consciences.
But does the government's solution address the moral problem for the nuns and others?
Consider this analogy. I give my builder $100,000 to build a home. He finishes the job $10,000 below budget by employing underage workers and using black-market materials. It would be wrong for me to share in the savings from those immoral activities, even if I didn’t make the arrangements.
The Affordable Care Act requires employers like Catholic University to carry health insurance. The problem we are trying to solve arises because HHS has imposed a further obligation to cover “preventive services,” and insisted that either we or our agent (the insurance company) pay for them. A more tolerant solution would be for the federal government to fund “preventive services.” But President Obama had to promise not to do that to get the law passed. A still more tolerant solution would be to exempt religious organizations like ours from a duty to pay for services that go against the fundamental tenets of our faith.
The United States was founded on the concept of religious freedom. The First Amendment says clearly that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The Little Sisters of the Poor, the university I represent, and countless other religious institutions across the country ask that the Supreme Court recognize our religious beliefs and strike down those regulations that would force us to violate them.
Garvey's piece is quite illuminating. It clearly shows why this battle is so important to the administration: the Affordable Care Act requires the complicity (and the money!) of people who believe it violates their religious freedom.