by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It seems almost scripted by Hollywood: the U.S. Supreme Court handing down a victory for religious liberty on the eve of Independence Day.
“It was a good day for all Americans in terms of the protection of conscience and religious liberty,” said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann.
The archbishop lauded the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 decision on June 30 in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties.
The two companies fought against a mandate requiring them to provide contraceptives and abortifacients as part of the Affordable Care Act.
“I was delighted that the court protected the conscience rights of the owners of these businesses, and essentially said the government can’t force them to provide in their insurance policies services that they find morally objectionable and offensive,” said Archbishop Naumann.
The key to victory was the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Drawing from this law, the high court ruled that “the government has failed to show that the contraceptive mandate is the least restrictive means for furthering a compelling government interest.”
“The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was part of the rationale for the decision, makes perfect sense,” said the archbishop.
“The only time the government should have the authority to force someone to go against their con- science is when there is a great public good at stake,” he continued, “bigger than the individual’s right. And, even with that, the government takes the least burdensome way of doing this.”
The archbishop said the government’s argument before the court — that forcing employers to provide free abortifacients, sterilization and contraception was a public good that overrides religious liberty — was “almost absurd.”
“None of these are really health care — they’re lifestyle choices people make,” he said. “In the case of contraception, it’s very inexpensive. The government already spends half a billion dollars a year giving away free contraceptives.”
Does the ruling settle all the problems with the Affordable Care Act? Not by a long shot.
“This does not answer whether religious ministries of the church will be compelled to offer these same morally objectionable lifestyle choices,” said the archbishop.
“The government gave these religious ministries another year to prepare themselves for this,” he continued, “so the court cases objecting to . . . this are not as far along in the courts. This decision focuses on closely held family businesses.”
The high court decision also did not address the issue of the federal government’s so-called “accommodations” for religious nonprofits in regard to the contraception mandate.
“My strong conviction is that the accommodations are meaningless, because the ministry has to trigger a process that winds up coercing the insurance company to provide the same services,” he said.
“We’re involved with it, because [refusal to provide the services] triggers our insurance companies having to provide it,” he said.
“And in some cases, we are self-insured,” he continued. “So that means we’ll have to provide it. Where does the insurance company get the money to provide these so-called services? From their [clients’] premiums. So it’s kind of a shell game.”
The archdiocese’s self-insurance program is “grandfathered” and thus temporarily protected from the ACA’s contraception mandate. The ruling doesn’t appear to affect this status, and it’s not clear what it means in the case of Villa St. Francis, which recently won an injunction against compliance with the mandate.
The Hobby Lobby decision, along with the Villa St. Francis injunction and a more recent injunction won by Catholic media entity EWTN, bode well for the future.
Even so, the archbishop was concerned about the margin of victory.
“I’m really delighted the majority of the court voted this way, but it’s somewhat sobering that four justices voted against it, and used some really strident language in their dissenting opinions,” he said.
“It’s pretty disappointing we have four justices on the court who think this way, but it also points out how important choosing our president is . . . and who serves in the U.S. Senate,” the archbishop continued. “Elections really matter. Who we empower to rule really matters. And Catholics in particular should consider who we empower to make these choices.”