“That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind" said the late Neil Armstrong when he became the first person to set foot on the moon. This week, as we approach the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I can’t help but notice that one small step is finally being taken in the right direction. Until recently, it’s been nothing but bad news and defeat after defeat for Illinois’ practicing Catholics as we fought back against Obamacare. Now that’s no longer the case.
Triune Health Group is a Catholic owned business in Illinois that has not only won public plaudits – being named “the best” employer for women and also placing very high on Crain’s 2012 “Best Place to Work” list – but has also been enormously successful and popular with Illinois citizens. The corporation assists injured workers who are reentering the workforce.
After Obamacare passed, the founders and owners of the company, Christopher and Mary Anne Yep, fought back against the HHS mandate and complained it would pose a gravely oppressive burden on their religious beliefs. Their attorneys and other legal groups like the Jubilee Campaign’s Law of Life Project and the Thomas More Society filed federal and state court motions on their behalf. They asked for a preliminary injunction to stop the state of Illinois and the Obama administration from imposing confiscatory fines and other legal sanctions on the company for exercising their state and federal free exercise of religion rights. As Catholics, they did not to be forced to pay for drugs that can induce abortions for their employees. The devout Catholic couple likewise did not want to suffer severe monetary penalties and other regulatory requirements for refusing to comply with the mandate. It seems the Yep’s flat out said “nope” to Obamacare.
The fascinating response is that the federal and state court judges actually took their side for a change. U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve, for the Northern District of Illinois, granted the Triune Health Group temporary relief from the federal HHS mandated healthcare coverage of abortifacients, sterilizations, and contraceptives on Jan. 4th. Then this week, Judge Terence M. Sheen of the DuPage County Circuit Court followed likewise, and issued a restraining order against Illinois’ contraception mandate. At least for the time being, Triune Health Group will not be forced to provide coverage for abortifacients, sterilizations, and contraceptives in their healthcare plans. Two court victories, one week after the other, is impressive enough. What’s even more optimistic for Illinois’ Catholics is that this was the first ruling by an Illinois court that the state’s contraception mandate for health insurance may be preempted by Illinois laws protecting conscience and religious freedom.
“The ruling today is a victory for religious liberty and the right of conscience,” said Peter Breen, executive director and legal counsel for the Thomas More Society, who represented the couple in court. “Religious liberty rights don’t end at the four walls of the church. In this pluralistic society, we don’t force people to abandon their religious beliefs merely because they are engaged in the marketplace.”
Still, this one small step means the struggle is far from over. On Feb. 6th, the court will hear arguments on the Illinois Attorney General’s motion to transfer the case to Cook County Circuit Court. Plaintiffs oppose the motion because Triune Health Group is located in DuPage County. More than 47 other lawsuits like the Yeps’ federal suit are pending in the federal courts with some courts granting the preliminary injunction relief requested, while others are declining to do so. "This is an area of law where there is not a lot of precedent," noted Breen. "We are glad to be able to get a first victory and be able to hopefully blaze a path for other employers in the state of Illinois to be able to offer conscience-compliant health care." There was no word yet whether Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan plans to appeal Sheen's ruling.
The most recent polling data, taken in December 2012, continues to show most Americans support a religious exemption to the HHS contraceptive mandate for individuals and organizations like the Yeps and Triune. Still, Obama supporters constantly claim that “women” don’t have “access” to birth control unless other people pay for it; and scream about “separation of church and state!” One wonders about the irony of their attacks as we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday this week.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day coincides with the second inauguration of America's first black president, and it seems many forget that if it weren’t for “religious people” being politically active and “Christians telling other people what to do”, we might have never passed civil rights laws in the first place. Martin Luther King Jr. was, after all, an ordained Baptist minister and leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference who decided to get involved with political issues because he thought the government’s segregation laws were unjust and unchristian. In King's famous letter written in 1963 while he was locked in a jail in Birmingham, Alabama, he begins with the salutation "My fellow clergymen" and asks, "How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust?" He noted "A just law is a manmade code that squares with the moral law or the law of God."
Don’t laws – such as the one forcing the devoutly Christian owners of Hobby Lobby to pay for contraception and abortion-inducing pills of employees, and exposing them to fines of $1.3 million per day for noncompliance -- qualify as "unjust" under King's definition?
Of course, those in the pro-Obama camp will probably claim it’s ridiculous to even bring up King’s name when it comes to protesting Obamacare, and will note that King supported using contraceptives and even received an award from Planned Parenthood in 1966. That much is true, but there’s no evidence to show he ever supported forcing other people to pay for abortions and sterilizations they didn’t believe in. There’s also the little inconvenient historical fact that Planned Parenthood was still (at least publicly) anti-abortion at the time they gave King an award. A 1963 Planned Parenthood pamphlet stated:
“Is birth control abortion? Definitely not. An abortion kills the life of a baby after it has begun. It is dangerous to your life and health. It may make you sterile so that when you want a child you cannot have it. Birth control merely post-pones the beginning of life.” (Is Birth Control Abortion, Planned Parenthood pamphlet, Aug. 1963, p.1)
Today, both sides on the pro-life and pro-choice camp will claim Martin Luther King Jr. as one of their own, probably for the convenient reason that King never made a definitive statement on abortion so it’s easy for people to mold him into whatever they want to fit their own views. Perhaps the best summery might come from the King family themselves. His niece, Dr. Alveda King, said she had has “mixed emotions” about President Obama’s plans to use her uncle’s Bible to take the oath of office for his second term in the White House. She stated: “Mr. President, we need jobs. We don’t need free birth control, and you’re funding Planned Parenthood,” she explained. “Sir, we could have had better schools with that $500 million. We could have had safer communities with that, and so we really don’t understand. If you want to help us, can you give us something that will give us jobs that will keep our children off the street?” Adding that she vehemently disagreed with President Obama’s abortion-on-demand policies, she stated “I really hope that when the president — and those who handle the Bible — I hope they just, even if they just accidentally slip it open, to where it says ‘choose life,’ or ‘God hates the shedding of innocent blood’ or something like that, I’m hoping it will just reverberate, shake them up a little bit,” Dr. Alveda King is currently a pastoral associate and director of African-American outreach for Priests for Life and Gospel of Life Ministries.
So whatever Martin Luther King Jr.’s views were on abortion or contraception, there can be little doubt of how he felt about the government forcing its views on people and restricting liberty. Because of that, we should all be proud of the one small step that was taken in Illinois this week.