Why Do Nuns Need Birth Control?

When the Supreme Court released their decision in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius on Monday it started the race to understand what it means for the other challenges to the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare.

The Hobby Lobby case established that the mandate violates the religious freedom of private, family owned companies, but a number of religiously affiliated non-profit organizations have challenged the mandate as well.

Obamacare includes an exemption from the mandate for churches, but that does not extend to thousands of religiously affiliated organizations like hospitals, colleges, universities, religious schools, and charities.

For example, Tyndale House Publishing, which is owned by the nonprofit Tyndale House Foundation and is the largest Bible publisher in the world, has been deemed not religious enough to be exempt.

Another non-profit organization that does not want to be forced to purchase contraception in their insurance plans is Little Sisters of the Poor, an international organization of Catholic nuns that cares for elderly poor people.

They have filed a lawsuit claiming that the requirement to provide contraceptive coverage violates their religious freedom.

In an effort to accommodate religious organizations without exempting them, the Obama Administration has told Little Sisters to sign a letter that the organization’s employees (nuns) could then use to obtain birth control coverage.

However, Little Sisters has argued that signing a letter that someone else would use to obtain birth control makes them complicit in something they believe is wrong.

The Department of Health and Human Services responded by claiming that Little Sisters should not object to signing the letter because it does not make them a party to the transaction but only releases them from the obligation of providing birth control themselves.

But the premise is wrong.

If the free exercise of religion means anything, it means the government doesn’t get to tell the people what is important to them as a matter of conscience, they get to honor it.

When the government tells you what beliefs are approved, that looks much more like an establishment of religion rather than the free exercise of it.

The good news is that the Hobby Lobby decision rejected the idea that government can decide for individuals when an action is morally objectionable.

Justice Alito, in the majority opinion, wrote, “[The objection to the mandate] implicates a difficult and important question of religion and moral philosophy, namely, the circumstances under which it is wrong for a person to perform an act that is innocent in itself but that has the effect of enabling or facilitating the commission of an immoral act by another.  Arrogating the authority to provide a binding national answer to this religious and philosophical question, HHS and the principal dissent in effect tell the plaintiffs that their beliefs are flawed.  For good reason, we have repeatedly refused to take such a step.”

He continued, “it is not for us to say that their religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial.”

This seems like good news for Little Sisters of the Poor.

The government’s argument that religious organizations should be content with the accommodation being offered appears to have been rejected on the grounds that the government doesn’t get to dictate to its subjects err… the people…what is acceptable to them on moral grounds.

If, as we hope they will, the Supreme Court agrees that the contraception mandate violates the religious freedom of non-profit organizations as well, then we can go back to figuring out who thought it was critical to guarantee birth control coverage for an order of nuns in the first place.

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