Religious organizations fighting the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) contraceptive mandate should take heart from Wednesday’s federal district court ruling in Stormans v. Selecky. Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire and her Planned Parenthood cronies were defeated in their campaign to compel pharmacies and their employees to choose between their religious beliefs and their livelihoods.
Judge Ronald Leighton found unconstitutional a State Board of Pharmacy rule targeting pharmacists with conscience objections to dispensing Plan B and ella, the so-called “morning after” and “week after” pills. These drugs are in the same heap of free contraceptives/abortifacients that HHS is forcing all insurance plans to cover along with sterilizations to female policyholders. Like pharmacists in the Evergreen State, faith-based employers are being told to abort their religious convictions or face serious penalties. In his legal opinion accompanying the ruling, Judge Leighton asked the million-dollar question: “Can the state compel licensed pharmacies and pharmacists to dispense lawfully prescribed emergency contraceptives over their sincere religious belief that doing so terminates a human life?” The Obama administration says yes.
In announcing his purported compromise on the mandate, President Obama painted the issue as a choice between “individual liberty and basic fairness for all Americans” that he refused to make. By requiring insurance companies to pay for services religious organizations find abhorrent, he thinks he found a way around the pesky conscience objections. But “this putative accommodation is … no accommodation at all,” Rabbi Meir Soloveichik of Yeshiva University told Rep. Darrell Issa’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Feb. 16. “The religious organizations would still be obligated to provide employees with an insurance policy that facilitates acts violating the organization’s religious tenets.”
Though Rabbi Soloveichik’s religion doesn’t prohibit contraceptive use, he has joined other religious leaders in opposing the mandate because of its threat to every American. “The policy is an unconscionable intrusion by the state into the consciences of American citizens,” C. Ben Mitchell, a professor of moral theology at Union University, explained to the committee. “Contrary to portrayals in some of the popular media, this is not just a Catholic issue. All people of faith - and even those who claim no faith - have a stake in whether or not the government can violate the consciences of its citizenry.”
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which pursued the case against Washington state’s religious persecution, has filed four lawsuits against HHS over the contraception rule. “There’s no room to disagree with the government,” Eric Kniffin, a Becket Fund attorney who represented the plaintiffs in Stormans told The Washington Times. “Both rules seek to exclude people of conscience from the public square. Dissenting minorities are forced to conform to the will of the state.”
Stormans v. Selecky found that the state cannot require conscience-violating obedience from the religious minority. The Obama administration is forcing a constitutional showdown between its radically coercive ideology and the right to individual liberty upon which this nation was founded. Our freedom hangs in the balance.
Anneke E. Green is Assistant Editorial Page Editor of The Washington Times. Follow her on Twitter @AnnekeEGreen