By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
Tired of hearing about the Affordable Care Act and its birth-control mandate? If paying for the pill is not your concern right now, should this issue even be on your radar? The answer is yes, because the matter strikes at the heart of religious freedom.
“Christians should examine this issue on two levels. On the surface, we should ask whether pregnancy should be treated like illness in the first place. Then, there’s the larger issue of the government’s forcing religious organizations to violate their beliefs by paying for these services,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “This is one of the latest in a number of attempts to undermine the free exercise of religion guaranteed by our Constitution.”
As the national health-care law passed in 2010 takes effect, it mandates that insurers make preventive care available to consumers at no out-of-pocket expense. The White House has announced that that care will include all forms of FDA-approved birth control, from condoms and IUDs to hormone shots or morning-after pills like Plan B and Ella.
The Catholic Church, which opposes any actions intended to prevent pregnancy with the exception of timing sex for the infertile part of a woman’s cycle, has been most vocal in its outcry against the mandate. But the battle over who decides exactly what kind of services employers must provide goes far beyond the Catholic Church.
“Even though the media are trying to sell the new healthcare law as a Catholic issue, it is not. The new law requires all employers to pay for birth control methods that include surgical sterilization and abortion inducing drugs,” said Denny Burk, an associate professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College. “… So this is more than a Catholic issue, it is a Protestant issue, a Jewish issue, an Orthodox issue, and an issue for every other religious group you can think of.”
Admittedly the law includes a very narrow religious exemption — a four-part test under which, as many have pointed out, even Jesus and his followers would not qualify as a church. And it’s true that President Obama recently announced a so-called “compromise” that would, at least on paper, transfer the cost of the controversial services to the insurance company instead of the employer.
But nothing changes the fact that the birth-control coverage requirement violates the First Amendment’s guarantee of the “free exercise” of religion, and also the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
“The refusal, for religious reasons, to provide birth-control coverage is clearly an exercise of religious freedom under the Constitution. The ‘exercise of religion’ extends to performing, or refusing to perform, actions on religious grounds — and it is definitely not confined to religious institutions or acts of worship,” wrote David Rivkin and Edward Whelan in a Wall Street Journal editorial on Wednesday. They point out that the RFRA says the government may not “substantially burden” a person’s exercise of religion unless it shows that doing so is “in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest” and is the “least restrictive means” of furthering that interest.
“Charging non-complying employers $2,000 per employee is clearly a substantial burden,” said Dr. Creech. “Nor is the mandate the ‘least restrictive means’ of increasing access to contraceptives.”
S. Michael Craven, president of the Center for Christ & Culture, said the issue isn’t even really about birth control.
“To be sure, this is first and foremost an issue of sphere sovereignty between church and state — and the stakes cannot be overstated,” he wrote in a Christian Post column. “… This has nothing to do with the Catholic Church’s doctrinal stand on contraception. Instead, it has everything to do with the state trying to impose its will upon the church when the state’s social and ideological agenda conflicts with the church’s moral and religious beliefs.”
Stephen Monsma, senior research fellow at the Paul B. Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics, told the Christian Post that the religious freedom of faith-based organization is being threatened because of “underlying assumptions or mindsets widely held in American society.”
“The crucial one is that religion is something that takes place in churches, synagogues, mosques or in private activities, such as devotional reading or prayer, in the home,” he said. “That leaves out a host of religiously based organizations that are involved in health care, education, other social services, which then are not seen as being truly religious organizations, and therefore, they can be forced to engage in practices that go against their beliefs without really, supposedly, violating their religious consciences.”
Dr. Creech said Christians who buy into the idea that faith should be kept at home or behind the church doors are missing the mark set by Christ and have forfeited their opportunity to serve as Jesus served and to be the “salt and light” of society. He urged them to take a stand and live out their faith rather than ceding more ground in the culture war.
North Carolina’s Belmont Abbey College is among several organizations leading the way on this issue. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is representing the college in a suit filed last November challenging the new healthcare law.
To find out more about the suit or to sign The Becket Fund’s petition defending Religious Liberty, log on to http://www.becketfund.org/hhs/.