Do We Have to Work for Nuns To Dodge Obamacare’s Mandates?

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Obamacare’s opponents are cheering the Little Sisters of the Poor’s apparent victory over Obamacare’s mandate to cover artificial contraception, about which I wrote when the controversy first erupted.

The Little Sisters defied the mandate, which is contrary to their Catholic faith. The mandate is (obviously) not relevant to the nuns themselves, but to their lay employees who work in the Little Sisters’ nursing home and are covered by their plan.

The Supreme Court decision is not complete victory: SCOTUS vacated judgments and fines approved by lower courts and sent the case back to lower courts to give the Administration time to find another way to get contraceptive coverage to the Little Sisters’ lay employees.

Bravo to the nuns for standing up to Uncle Sam. However, I am increasingly concerned that advocates of small government have surrendered a lot of ground in the fight for individual liberty. Unless a person or persons have a sincerely held religious objection to a federal mandate, they have to obey. This principle is problematic.

It requires judges to engage in mind-reading. Are all the nuns good Catholics? Many some of them are agnostics or atheists, but are too embarrassed to tell the world they’ve lost their faith. On the other hand, why does a Catholic citizen have to be a nun in order for the federal government to yield its power over her religious practices? Married life is an equally valid vocation in Catholic doctrine. However, because married Catholics who run a family business do not wear clothing that distinguishes them from non-Catholics, they do not have the option of avoiding Obamacare’s mandates.

And what about the Little Sisters’ lay employees? They may be just the sort of faithful married Catholics described above. Common sense tells us at least some of the Little Sisters’ lay employees work there because they want to practice their faith alongside the nuns. (Of course, only God really knows who they are, because we cannot read the minds of the lay employees either.) If they want contraception coverage from an employer’s health plan, they are free to seek employment at another nursing home.

The Little Sisters are sympathetic plaintiffs to most Americans. Nevertheless, the doctrine that only religious conscience allows a person exemption from federal mandates will lead to increasingly strange outcomes. This being America, these things are almost sure to come.

What about the fundamentalist Protestant Christian employer who does not want Catholic hospitals in her health plan’s network because she believes crucifixes and statues of saints are idols to be destroyed, not venerated? Or the Muslim employer who conscience informs him doctors should not examine patients of the opposite sex, and tries to impose that rule on his health plan?

Do only such people have the ability to push their claims all the way up to the Supreme Court, while the agnostics, atheists, humanists, deists, and Unitarian Universalists have to obey whatever the government commands?

Either we all have freedom of association or we do not. Permitting only religious people legal redress against overweening government will lead to an increasingly fragmented, extremist, and politicized society.

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