HHS Mandate, Religious Freedom

Third Circuit HHS Mandate Ruling Could Send Issue to the Supreme Court

HHS Mandate

Obamacare’s HHS Mandate on contraception requires that all insurance plans cover all contraceptive drugs at no cost.  This includes the morning after and week after pills which prevent implantation of a fertilized egg.  This form of contraception is considered a type of abortion by many people, therefore, they feel the mandate is a conflict with their faith formed beliefs.

This has prompted more than 200 law suit filings from businesses and individuals across the country seeking religious exemptions to the rule.  In certain cases the court has ruled in favor of individuals on the individual mandate, saying the government cannot force an individual to purchase something, which goes against his or her faith.  There has been promising yet mixed results regarding the employer mandate.

The most famous of these cases was brought by Oklahoma City based Hobby Lobby, owned by a religious family who also runs the Mardel chain of Christian bookstores, and just last week the 10th Circuit Court granted the chain an injunction, saying that the case would likely be ruled in its favor.  This week, however, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued a contradictory ruling in the case of a Mennonite family (the Hahns) run woodworking business which employs 950 employees.

The Obama administration argues that businesses do not enjoy Constitutional rights.  The core problem with this argument, of course, is that businesses are run by individuals.  Whether the owners are a Mennonite family running a woodworking business, or the family who founded and runs one of the country’s biggest hobby store chains, they are individuals.  Forcing them to decide between continuing their business versus violating their religious faith is wrong, and it’s the de facto effect of such a ruling.

Judge Kent Jordan, who disagreed with the majority ruling on this case, was very perceptive in his analysis of the effects of the case.  “The government,” he said “takes us down a rabbit hole where religious rights are determined by the tax code, whereby non-profit corporations are able to express religious sentiments and yet for-profit corporations and their owners are told that business is business and faith is irrelevant.  Meanwhile, up on the surface, where people try to live lives of integrity and purpose, that kind of division sounds as hollow as it truly is.”

In 1835, Alexis De Tocqueville alluded to this form of tyranny in his extraordinarily important work, Democracy in America.  “The excesses of monarchial power had devised a variety of physical means of oppression: the democratic republics of the present day have rendered it as entirely an affair of the mind as that will which it is intended to coerce …  the body is left free, and the soul is enslaved.”  Essentially, violation of rights and civil liberties does not have to come at gunpoint; creating rules which prevent those who disagree from participating in society are every bit as real, and the form of oppression which America is most vulnerable to.

The ruling of the Third Circuit Court on the HHS mandate epitomizes that idea, and has a tremendous impact on the definition of religious freedom in the US.  By restricting the ability of people to act and live according to their faith, the precedent is set that “freedom of religion” means that religion is free to exist, not that people are free to live according to their religion.  This is a massive and incredibly important difference.

Because it contradicts another ruling by a court of appeals, the Hahn ruling makes it very likely that the issue of contraception, religious freedom and the HHS mandate will be decided at the Supreme Court in its next term.  This is an important issue for the families and business owners who will be affected, but also for the philosophical foundation of the First Amendment.

Leave a Reply