Real Religious Freedom
In late March, almost exactly six years after President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law — as pointed out by Caroline Fredrickson from the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy — the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Zubik v Burwell. This case was based on a number of separate law suits filed by a group of religious non-profits who believe that even filing paperwork to exempt them from covering birth control under their insurance plans is a “sin.” They argue that, by doing so, they “trigger” alternative means of providing this to employees directly through the government and its preventive health care insurance mandate.
In Fredrickson’s Huffington Post blog, she speculated that SCOTUS would affirm the decisions of eight federal appellate courts that this accommodation does not pose a “substantial burden” on the religious beliefs of these employers as protected under the Religious Freedom Act. On the contrary, a win by these plaintiffs would overly burden those individuals whose workplace denies or obstructs their right to certain contraceptive choices.
The assumption was that the case would be settled once and for all, with all its constitutional implications, and that the so-called religious freedom violation charge would fail.
A public radio court correspondent predicted a week or so back that this particular decision would be among the last issued this SCOTUS session, sometime in late June because of its weight and potential controversy.
On the contrary, the court issued its opinion this week — and it was a non-opinion.
They sent the case(s) back to the lower courts in hopes, they wrote, of both sides compromising. Hence this statement from the UUWF and a piece of proposed federal law:
RELIGIOUS LIBERTY AND THE HUMAN REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS OF WOMEN
The Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation, a founding member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) joins with our sister faith based organizations in expressing disappointment and concern for the human reproductive rights of women that the U Supreme Court avoided issuing a ruling in Zubik v. Burwell, a case brought by religiously affiliated non-profit employers who do not want to have any role in giving their employees access to contraception.
These employers, in seven separate law suits, had claimed that the requirement under the Affordable Care Act that they must notify their insurer or the government that they object to providing coverage, at which point the government would provide birth control at no cost to these employers still violates the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)
Instead of making a decision on the merits of the case, the SCOTUS has returned the case to lower federal appeals courts, all but one previously siding with the government and against the nonprofits. Their decisions have been voided and the Supreme Court has asked both parties in the suit to work on crafting compromises.
“As an affiliate organization of the Unitarian Universalist Association, we affirm the inherent worth of every woman and the right of conscience,” said Dr. Kirstie Lewis, President of the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation (UUWF).
“We do not see claims of religious liberty as grounds for religious organizations to interfere in the coverage of contraception for their employees. In our view, the Supreme Court lost an important opportunity to bring these religious liberty arguments to an end and to validate the choices of women whether they work for religious institutions or not.”
Along with some 40 organizations, UUWF has signed on to support the just introduced the Do No Harm Act, announced this week by Representatives Joe Kennedy (D-MA) and Bobby Scott (D-VA). This legislation would amend RFRFA to protect the religious, civil and conscience-based rights of individuals. The Do No Harm act would restore the original intent of RFRA by ensuring that it cannot be misused to discriminate and harm others, including circumstances where access to health care may be blocked or hampered.