The federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) keeps losing intermediate battles in court. What that means is that religious liberty, for now, is winning.
The battles all involve challenges to the “HHS mandate” that requires employers, including many with religious affiliations, to provide insurance that includes coverage of sterilization and of drugs that may induce abortions. All across the country, dozens of religiously affiliated institutions or family businesses with religious scruples have sued to block the mandate, claiming that it violates their religious freedom. Those claims have serious merit.
On June 18th, U.S. District Court Judge Joy Flowers Conti of the Western District of Pennsylvania issued a preliminary injunction forbidding HHS and the Departments of Labor and the Treasury from enforcing the mandate against several plaintiffs including Geneva College, an institution founded in 1848 by the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. Geneva’s long-stated mission is “to glorify God by educating and ministering to a diverse community of students in order to develop servant-leaders who will transform society for the kingdom of Christ.” Yet according to the government, Geneva does not qualify as a “religious institution” for purposes of receiving an exemption from the mandate.
Judge Conti made mincemeat of the government’s assertion.
“Under the proposed rules,” she wrote, “Geneva is faced with having to choose between violating its deeply held religious beliefs and being forced to terminate its student health insurance coverage, which it alleges also burdens its religious exercise.” And: “If Geneva were forced to drop its student health insurance plan, it would equally frustrate Geneva’s desire to support the physical well-being of its students.”
On several other tests of whether an injunction should be issued against the government, the judge again found that the facts and law supported a preliminary injunction. Judge Conti also wrote that “the public interest will likewise benefit if the court grants the requested relief, because ‘there is strong public interest in protecting fundamental First Amendment rights’” such as the free exercise of religion.
The judge’s findings are a model of legal reasoning. They also track a nationwide trend of courts slapping down, at least in intermediate decisions, the government’s position. According to the Alliance Defending Freedom (a non-profit legal group that fights for religious liberty), of 27 cases involving the mandate so far, the challengers have won 20, while the mandate has been upheld in only seven.
“All Americans should be free to live according to their faith rather than be forced to violate their own consciences,” said ADF senior counsel Gregory S. Baylor. “The government should not punish people of faith for making decisions consistent with that faith.”
Mr. Baylor is, of course, absolutely correct.
These columns have frequently returned to the topic of the HHS mandate not because people of faith need to be convinced that the mandate violates our faith and freedom, but because we need to keep heart in fighting against the mandate. The establishment media tends to ignore or downplay these court victories for religious liberty, leading sometimes to a sense of hopelessness among many of us who do not realize that judges are consistently siding with our side of right and reason.
At a long-term, existential level, the battle for religious liberty is the most important national issue we face. All other rights flow from what the founding fathers called our “freedom of conscience” in matters of faith.
We must keep the faith, figuratively as well as literally. As the reformer Martin Luther wrote in his most famous hymn, “We will not fear, for God has willed his truth to triumph through us.”
About the Contributor
Quin Hillyer is a Senior Fellow for The Center for Individual Freedom, a Senior Editor for the American Spectator magazine, and a Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mobile. He has won mainstream awards for journalistic excellence at the local, state, regional and national levels. He has been published professionally in well over 50 publications, including the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Houston Chronicle, the San Francisco Chronicle, Investors Business Daily, National Review, the Weekly Standard, Human Events, and The New Republic Online. He is a former editorial writer and columnist for the Washington Times, the Washington Examiner, the Mobile Register, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and a former Managing Editor of Gambit Weekly in New Orleans. He has appeared dozens of times as a television analyst in Washington DC, Alabama, Arkansas, and Louisiana, and as a guest many hundreds of times on national and local radio shows.
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