Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Now Poor Oppressed Christians Can't Win

The recent death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has complicated what I consider the stupidest religious freedom case ever brought before the court, Zubik v. Burwell. In the case, a charity called Little Sisters of the Poor is trying to argue that filling out and mailing a form violates their religious rights. What's so especially dumb about the case is that all the form in question does is assert said rights.

As a religious charity, Little Sisters of the Poor is eligible for a religious accommodation from the employer mandate to cover contraception for its employees. Little Sisters is a Roman Catholic charity, so they are opposed to providing this coverage. Thanks to the accommodation, all they have to do is fill out a form that tells the government they are opting out, and coverage is provided at no cost to the employee on a separate rider.

The entire process is simple and balances the religious rights of the employer with those of the employee, who may or may not have any religious objection to contraception at all. But in true Poor Oppressed Christian fashion, Little Sisters claims that unless they can deny all contraception coverage to their employees and prevent anyone else from doing so as well, their rights are still being violated.

Like I said - really, really stupid. All of the lower courts have ruled against this nonsense by wide margins, as they should.

An evenly split ruling, with the court's four liberals backing the Obama administration against the four conservative justices, would leave in place lower-court rulings rejecting challenges brought by the Christian organizations that oppose providing contraception coverage for religious reasons.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who often casts the deciding vote in close cases, appeared more aligned with the court's three other conservatives in favoring the challengers, which primarily were Roman Catholic including the archdiocese of Washington.

The Christian employers call contraception immoral and argue that the government should not compel religious believers to choose between following their faith and following the law. They argue they should get the complete exemption from the mandate already given to places of worship such as churches, mosques and temples.

Kennedy said if religious employers were forced to comply with the contraception mandate they would be "in effect, subsidizing the conduct that they deemed immoral."

And I can see where all that would be true, if they were being forced to provide coverage. They're not. They're being asked to fill out a form opting out of doing so, which simply tells the government that they are asserting their religious rights to not offer it. That's it, and it seems to me that filling out a form is completely reasonable and could not possibly create any sort of burden, substantial or otherwise.

How the Supreme Court operates is that in the case of a tie vote, the lower court's ruling against these employers stands. The Supreme Court's four liberal justices seem certain to side with the lower court and reasonable people everywhere in upholding that ruling. As the court is highly politicized, it was thought that Scalia and the other conservatives might vote against it anyway, but with only four conservatives on the court a tie is the best they can do.

By the logic presented in the case, there are all sorts of forms that I theoretically could object to filling out on religious grounds. But I don't, because I'm not a nutball. It's not like this is an entirely new concept. During the draft, for example, Quakers who were opposed to fighting a war on religious grounds were allowed to opt out, but they still had to register as conscientious objectors to exercise that right - which I'm pretty sure involved filling out at least one form.

The real underlying issue here is that Little Sisters wants to be able to deny all contraception coverage to their employees, regardless of the source. But under the Constitution that just can't be allowed to fly. Employers have religious rights, but so do employees - and the even the majority of Christian denominations in the United States allow contraception.

One party's religious freedom rights do not supersede those of another, regardless of what that second party's religious beliefs happen to be. This is a basic and fundamental principle of our society that the Poor Oppressed Christians in our midst are still failing to grasp.

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1 comment:

Rita said...

The clear and simple solution for the Little Sisters of the Poor is to recruit more members so that they can accomplish their charitable work without having to hire secular employees. That is how religious orders used to do it. Catholic schools staffed by nuns and monks, catholic hospitals staffed by nursing sisters. Remember those?. But they can't get enough people to sign on to their inhumane lifestyle any more and have to hire people to work in their organizations. Maybe they should take the hint and only run what they can without outside help. Some institutions just need to die a natural death.