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The Birth Control mandate and Religious Freedom

Instead of the New Year offering President Obama a fresh start, the beginning of 2014 was quickly dominated by past decisions of the Obama Administration. It was ironically Obama nominee Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor who blocked the birth control mandate of his signature legislative accomplishment the Affordable Care Act just as the New Year started. Because the mandate originally required all employers pay for contraceptives, religious groups, most notably those affiliated with the Catholic Church, argued the mandate violated their First Amendment Rights as the use of contraceptives contradicts their religious doctrines.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was responsive for blocking the Affordable Care acts contraceptive mandate
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

An exception for most religious groups was later added while the provision was reworked, so contraception would be included in every insurance policy as a basic policy provision, i.e. indirectly paid for. With that in mind, it is important to remember there are one to two million Jehovah Witnesses who are also US citizens mandated to buy health insurance and view blood transfusions as violating their religious doctrine, because it is seen as the consumption of blood. If the Obama Administration’s compromise is invalided, this could mean other religious groups have the right to demand health insurance policies exclude any offensive provisions, including essential treatment options like blood transfusion.

Obviously, a failure to cover emergency services like blood transfusions would be problematic and endanger lives. In tandem, interpreting the First Amendment protections of Catholics, as well as other groups that view birth control as immoral, to include any indirect financial support of a mandate they find offensive would have far-reaching effects. Certainly, Catholics, whether a religious institution or individual, should not be mandated to violate their religious beliefs; however, the First Amendment does not prevent society from creating legislation and other mandates, which indirectly affect individuals, just because a religion finds certain provisions offensive.

Although Catholics may indirectly have to pay for birth control through mandated health insurance, they also have to indirectly pay for other activities that are potentially offensive to their religious beliefs, such as war, through various taxes and fees. Henceforth, the mandate compromise is not a violation of their First Amendment freedoms. Consider someone who views the color red and the image of a ram to be Satanic. While he always has the choice to not buy a Dodge, his insurance company, no matter what insurance company he chooses, probably provides a policy for a Dodge Ram and will just as likely end up paying out a claim on a Dodge Ram. Because insurance is mandated by State law, he and his church have the right as the Catholics to demand their premiums are not used to cover red vehicles and vehicles with imagines of rams on them. Clearly, such a claim is absurd.

Meanwhile, the need to protect one’s individual First Amendment Rights does not make it acceptable for the state to violate the rights of other individuals. In this case, the government cannot respect the Catholic Church’s right to not pay for birth control by restricting the rights of women, even if they work for the Church, to have the same access to birth control as afforded by law to others, i.e. Equal Protection. Consequently, the Supreme Court would be in the wrong if it should eventually judge this indirect implementation of the birth control mandate be stripped away.

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