The Concerning Question for Religious Freedom…
The Little Sisters of the Poor filed an appeal on February 24 before a federal court in a further attempt to be exempt from having to be required to abide by the Health and Human Services mandate that employer-sponsored health insurance provide free access to contraceptives. The mandate automatically exempts churches; however, the Little Sisters of the Poor – despite being a Catholic Order – are not considered a “religious employer”.
The Little Sisters originally filed to be exempt in September 2013, and were granted a temporary stay by Justice Sonia Sotomayer in January. Unfortunately, they are still expected to abide by the mandate if the appeal they have filed does not grant them full immunity from this part of the Affordable Care Act.
The HHS mandate does provide measures for a church to not follow the contraceptives mandate on religious grounds, but that is limited to “houses of worship”. The Catholic Church, in particular, is much more than the Churches scattered across the country – it is made up of religious orders and lay groups that work daily in the service of the Church as a whole. There are also countless other religion-based organizations and groups, such as Hobby Lobby or Chick-fil-A, which are run following a strict set of Judeo-Christian religious tenants. These non-church organizations have, to date, not been exempt from the mandate, despite their religion-based standing on the use of contraceptives as sinful.
The U.S. Government is dictating to the citizens what is and is not a “religious employer”. Obviously it is correct in stating that an actual church is such an employer, but it is wrong in its decision to state that a group or organization, directly associated with a church, such as the Little Sisters, or not directly associated, such as Hobby Lobby, is not a religious employer. The State is walking on dangerous grounds on separating itself from the Church as it tries to mandate what does and does not qualify as freedom of religion as defined in the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides freedom of religion to the citizens, not to institutions directly. But the freedom of religion that a citizen practices is then available to him in any institution he creates which is based on the religious beliefs he holds.