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A Small Victory for Religious Freedom

In recent months, I’ve written in support of the Catholic Church’s effort to fight back against the Obama administration’s attempt to force it to pay for services that contradict the teaching of its religion via the Health and Human Services insurance mandate. But this issue is not just about church institutions, it is also about the ability of individuals to conduct business without violating their faith. The Newland family, owners of an HVAC distribution company named Hercules Industries and devout Catholics, believe the HHS mandate created by the ObamaCare legislation that would force them to pay for free contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drug coverage to their employees is a violation of their religious freedom. In response, they sued, and fortunately, days before an August 1 deadline that would have forced the company to begin making changes in its insurance plan to comply with the dictates of the administration, a federal district court judge appointed by Jimmy Carter granted a temporary injunction against the government. This victory in the case of Newland v. Sibelius will allow them to bring their case to court before crushing fines (the penalties could amount to as much as $10 million per year) are levied against them.

While the Obama administration has issued a narrow religious exemption to houses of worship, it has not extended that to other religious institutions, let alone individual business owners. As Judge John L. Kane ruled, any delay in enforcing the government’s demand “pales in comparison to the possible infringement upon [the Newlands’] constitutional and statutory rights.” While the injunction is limited to the Newlands rather than to all private businesses, the family’s fight is one on which hinges the future of religious liberty in this nation.

Though supporters of the administration have tried to represent the attempt to halt the administration’s push for these mandates as a “war on women,” what is really going on is an effort to redefine religious freedom as merely the right to public worship rather than the ability to live and conduct business while respecting one’s religious precepts. If successful, the Obama drive to force individuals as well as institutions to break with their faith in order to do business would mean that such freedom would only exist in the privacy of one’s home, church and synagogue and not in the public square. Such an interpretation would effectively drive believers not just out of public life but out of the marketplace as well. This constricted view of religion bespeaks an attitude that regards the commitment of believers to act on their principles in every aspect of their lives, including business, as outside the protection of the Constitution. That is not a position that can be sustained if faith is to be protected and allowed to thrive in this nation.

This case merely illustrates the intrusive nature of ObamaCare and the way it gives the federal government unprecedented power to impose its will on almost every aspect of American life. Allowing the Newlands and any other business owner who thinks they have a right to abide by their own consciences does no injury to women or to anyone. The right to contraception or even abortion is not being abridged if they are allowed to choose an insurance plan that does not include them. But if they are compelled by government fiat to trample on their beliefs, their First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion will be trampled.

This Newland injunction is a minor victory in what will be a long, hard fight against the administration’s drive to squelch religious freedom as groups such as the Alliance Defending Freedom (which represented the Newlands) and the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom take the issue to the courts. Nevertheless, it gives believers and all those who wish to resist the tyrannical impulse to aggrandize federal power hope that liberty will ultimately prevail.


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