WASHINGTON, D.C., April 13, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – Attorneys for a host of religious organizations, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, told Supreme Court justices they have a simple message: The government can distribute contraception and abortfacients without our involvement.
The Obama administration and attorneys for a coalition of plaintiffs who object to ObamaCare's HHS mandate filed dueling briefs with the Supreme Court yesterday. On March 29, justices told both sides to present solutions to how the mandate can go forward without placing an undue burden on believers' deeply held beliefs.
The religious objectors in the case, Zubik v. Burwell, said they “simply object to having to play a morally impermissible role in the process.”
Signing a religious exemption form, which triggers insurers to offer women coverage of potentially abortion-inducing drugs, requires them to participate in sin, the groups say.
The government should instead allow them to sign up for insurance plans that do not cover services that violate their religion, and allow the insurance company to offer “separate contraceptive coverage plans” to female employees.
The insurers would know which employers did not offer birth control in their benefits package and could offer those employees coverage without having to be notified, they argued.
These groups accused the Obama administration of hijacking their insurance plans and demanding their tacit assent in violation of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
A true accommodation would entail “separate enrollment processes, insurance cards, payment sources, and communication streams.” The plans could be “sponsored by the government,” the brief says.
Under that system, the administration could easily provide contraceptives to all women without requiring religious groups to take part and “threatening them with ruinous fines unless they do so.”
The religious groups filing suit “simply object to having to play a morally impermissible role in the process.”
One of the attorneys who filed the brief, Mark Rienzi of the Becket Fund, told LifeSiteNews there has “been a misperception” or “caricature” of the Little Sisters' opposition to the HHS mandate.
That view, he said on a conference call this morning, is that “these religious groups will never be satisfied.”
“They have always pretended that the goal has always been to stand in front of the pharmacy and bar the door,” Rienzi said.
Sister Loraine Marie Maguire of the Little Sisters of the Poor said in a statement yesterday, “We have always believed a solution is possible, and are hopeful the government will let us serve.”
Rienzi, who was on the call along with attorney Robert Muise of the American Freedom Law Center, said the Obama administration should not be hard-pressed in coming to an amiable agreement, because “you can get people drugs without nuns.”
However, the Obama administration said the current arrangement goes far enough. In a 20-page brief, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. called the current opt-out “a minimally intrusive process” and argued that any modification of the HHS mandate would come “only at a real cost to its effective implementation.”
The written notice “serves to verify the employer’s sincerity,” he said.
Allowing this challenge to go forward could “lead to years of additional litigation, during which tens of thousands of women would likely continue to be denied” free contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilizations.
The issue at stake, the plaintiffs in the case said, is their conscience, not the government's decision that all females of childbearing age be given contraception.
Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, said, “The believer is the only one qualified to draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. We cannot ever be the 'gateway' for the provision of these life-denying, life-destroying drugs.”
He was joined by those of other denominations who filed some of the other seven cases, which justices conflated into one case on the HHS mandate.
“We are proud to be part of the long tradition of Baptists in America, just as Roger Williams advocated for religious freedom and separation of church and state in Colonial America and founded Rhode Island and the First Baptist Church in America,” said Dr. Blair Blackburn, the president of East Texas Baptist University. “We simply ask the court to recognize that ETBU is a conscientious objector, and that the federal government is insisting that we act as a conscientious collaborator.”
Dr. Robert Sloan, who is president of Houston Baptist University said he is “hopeful that the Supreme Court will let us continue to serve our students and others.”
A decision is expected in June.