WASHINGTON, D.C., February 26, 2013, (Acton Institute) – Has there ever, in the history of America, been a presidential administration as dismissive of religious liberties as the Obama Administration?
The Administration seems to truly believe that when religious beliefs come into conflict with one of the President’s pet policies—such as employers being forced to pay for contraceptives and abortifacients—that religious liberties must be set aside. A prime example is the Administration’s idea that by forming a business entity intended to limit liability, a person loses their First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.
As CNSNews reports, during an oral argument in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia last fall, a lawyer for the U.S. Justice Department told a federal judge that the Obama administration believed it could force the judge’s own wife—a physician—to act against her religious faith in the conduct of her medical practice.
Here is the exchange, from the official court transcript, between this Obama administration lawyer and Judge Walton:
Benjamin Berwick: “Well, your honor, I think, I think there are two distinct ideas here: One is: Is the corporation itself religious such that it can exercise religion? And my, our argument is that it is not. Although again, we admit that it is a closer case than for a lot of other companies. And then the second question is, can the owners–is it a substantial burden on the owners when the requirement falls on the company that is a separate legal entity? I think for that question precisely what their beliefs are doesn’t really matter. I mean, they allege that their religious beliefs are being violated. We don’t question that. And we don’t question that that is the belief.
Judge Reggie Walton: But considering the closeness of the relationship that the individual owners have to the corporation to require them to fund what they believe amounts to the taking of a life, I don’t know what could be more contrary to one’s religious belief than that.
Berwick: Well, I don’t think the fact this is a closely-held corporation is particularly relevant, your honor. I mean, Mars, for example–
Judge Walton: Well, I mean, my wife has a medical practice. She has a corporation, but she’s the sole owner and sole stock owner. If she had strongly-held religious belief and she made that known that she operated her medical practice from that perspective, could she be required to pay for these types of items if she felt that that was causing her to violate her religious beliefs?
Berwick: Well, Your Honor, I think what it comes down to is whether there is a legal separation between the company and—
Judge Walton: It’s a legal separation. I mean, she obviously has created the corporation to limit her potential individual liability, but she’s the sole owner and everybody associates that medical practice with her as an individual. And if, you know, she was very active in her church and her church had these same type of strong religious-held beliefs, and members of the church and the community became aware of the fact that she is funding something that is totally contrary to what she professes as her belief, why should she have to do that?
Berwick: Well, your honor, again, I think it comes down to the fact that the corporation and the owner truly are separate. They are separate legal entities.
Judge Walton: So, she’d have to give up the limitation that conceivably would befall on her regarding liability in order to exercise her religion? So, she’d have to go as an individual proprietor with no corporation protection in order to assert her religious right? Isn’t that as significant burden?
In reference to the judge's concerns, the government lawyer says, “I actually don’t think it is that important.” What he does believe is important is contraceptives, since they are “important to the health and well-being of women and to advancing gender equality.” Yet even if we concede this point, the Administration has given no rational explanation for why is it necessary for an employer to violate their conscience in order to pay for someone else’s contraceptives.
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Fortunately, on Nov. 16, Judge Walton granted Tyndale a preliminary injunction preventing the Obama administration from forcing the corporation to violate the religious beliefs of its owners. Hopefully, when the issue is taken up by the Supreme Court the judiciary will, once and for all, put an end to President Obama’s trampling of religious freedom.
This article originally appeared on the website of the Acton Institute and is reprinted with permission.