Taking liberties with religion
Obamacare forces religious believers to act in ways contrary to their faith. The U.S. Supreme Court will decide if that is permissible.
Fixing the Affordable Care Act website is proving to be a bigger problem than President Barack Obama predicted. Plus, the courts haven't yet completed their constitutional reviews.
Abandoning his administration's Nov. 30 deadline for online enrollment of small businesses seeking employee health insurance coverage, President Obama has thrown in the towel.
The president Wednesday announced a yearlong delay in online enrollment and indicated small businesses can sign up through an agent, broker or directly through an insurance company. Small businesses have been filling out paper applications.
Needless to say, this is another unfathomable setback for the HealthCare.gov website that went public Oct. 1 and almost immediately went off the rails. Even more embarrassing, the announcement came three days after federal officials promised a smooth enrollment for businesses and individuals trying to access the website.
That's a bureaucratic issue. The struggle to implement Obamacare also is underway in the courts, where private institutions are challenging the government's effort to force those who oppose birth control to pay for it.
The U.S. Supreme Court announced this week that it will hear cases involving employers who object, for religious reasons, to being required to pay for their employees' birth control.
Hobby Lobby, a Oklahoma-based company founded on religious principals, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania company with Mennonite owners, have challenged the mandate. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby while the 3rd Circuit Court in Philadelphia ruled against Conestoga, leaving the nine-member U.S. Supreme Court to settle the dispute.
Religious-based objections to some Obamacare mandates deserve serious consideration. In our view, it's only slightly less outrageous for the Obama administration to force employers who have religious objection to financing employees' birth control than it is for the Obama administration to push a similar requirement on the Catholic Church. Both efforts represent an assault on the First Amendment right to freedom of religion.
The issue, however, is complicated. Hobby Lobby, whatever religious beliefs drove the founding of the enterprise, is a corporation, and one of the legal questions to be resolved is whether a corporation has a legal right to freedom of religion.
Various pundits are making conflicting predictions of how the court will rule. But the unvarnished fact is that no one will know until the court decides.
Its 5-4 ruling last year to uphold the constitutionality of the individual mandate by calling the penalty for not purchasing insurance a tax promises another spirited disagreement.
However, the high court has a long history of going out of its way to protect the liberty of religious groups to engage in behavior that conflicts with the law. Among those decisions are those allowing ritualistic animal sacrifices and use of illegal drugs as part of religious ceremonies.
The Obama administration has argued that business owners' religious beliefs are irrelevant to mandates forced on the businesses, in effect establishing a legal separation between what people believe and what they can be required to finance. Opponents of the mandate says the two concepts go hand in hand and are indivisible.
Now the Supreme Court will decide which of those opinions has the imprimatur of settled law.