Obamacare Decision Endangers Religious Liberty; Roberts' Approach Could Redefine Church-Based Institutions

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 17, 2012 | Go to article overview

Obamacare Decision Endangers Religious Liberty; Roberts' Approach Could Redefine Church-Based Institutions


Byline: Father Michael P. Orsi, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The recent Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act), which upheld the individual mandate as constitutional portends grave danger for those religious organizations now suing the federal government for infringing on religious liberty. These groups rightly contend that the government has no right to decide who is religious enough to be exempt from government mandates. The Department of Health and Human Services requirement to provide free contraception and insurance coverage would force church-related organizations to violate church doctrine.

Although the recent Supreme Court decision, National Federation of Independent Business, et al. v. Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al., does not settle the religious liberty exemption demanded by the churches, it does however, open the door for the Supreme Court to redefine what constitutes a church organization.

Here is why:

When Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote the opinion for the majority, he basically rewrote a piece of congressional legislation in order to get the result he wanted by calling the mandate a tax instead of a penalty, which is what Congress approved.

Why did he do this?

For the past seven years, Chief Justice Roberts had been viewed as a conservative jurist. But a conservative read of the law requires an originalist interpretation of the Constitution and acts of Congress. In other words, a judge reads what is written in the text and then adjudicates upon it. This philosophy is clearly evidenced in the minority dissent. Chief Justice Roberts is a purposivist. He believes that courts should read statutes in context in order to fulfill the legislative purpose. By changing the stated penalty into a tax, which he rightly contends is the prerogative of Congress, he used judicial license to foster what he deemed to be the purpose of Congress in passing the bill. It is important to emphasize that the president, Congress, and the lower courts did not recognize this as a tax.

This being the case, a red flag should go up for those organizations seeking a religious exemption from the HHS mandate. Chief Justice Roberts' purposivist philosophy would permit a redefinition of a religious institution, as the HHS mandate demands, in order to provide the universal health care envisioned by the legislation. The fact that Congress has for some time been acting as though the Supreme Court is the supreme branch of government, having the last word, and against whose judgments the elective branches have no appeal, portends grave danger for religious liberty and for democracy itself. …

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