Back to First Principles on Religious Freedom

By DOROTHY SAMUELS, New York Times, 2/25/12

Catholic bishops, leading Republicans and other social conservatives persist in portraying the Obama administration’s new rule requiring employer health plans to cover birth control without a co-pay as an assault on religious freedom.

Protesting the contraception rule at the White House this month.

But the real departure from the Constitution is their specious claim to a right to impose their religious views on millions of Americans who do not share them. Virtually all American women, including Catholic women, use contraceptives sometime in their lives. In essence, the bishops and their allies are arguing that they are above the law and their beliefs should be elevated over pressing societal interests.

The political ruckus over the issue has tended to obscure a central fact: the legal case against the policy is remarkably weak. The contraception benefit is plainly constitutional and a proper exercise of government power under Supreme Court precedent and a federal law dealing with exercise of religion.

As with other church-state disputes, the starting point is the text of the First Amendment, which says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The nation’s founders were seeking a protective balance, one that gave wide berth to religious belief but drew a line at government entanglement with religion or favoring one faith over another.

Deciding the proper balance in individual cases can be hard. However, by applying existing law and precedent, judges should have little trouble dismissing the argument that President Obama trampled on the religious freedom of employers like hospitals and universities with religious affiliations by having insurance companies provide free contraceptive coverage to the institutions’ employees.

Insupportable claims of religious infringement are being made in other contexts, too….

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Filed under Religions, Rights, Justice, Law

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