As the White House continues dealing with well-publicized problems with the HealthCare.gov website, there’s at least one big question related to the Affordable Care Act that’s outside the president’s control: Can employers with religious objections be compelled to provide access to contraception coverage for their workers?
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has granted a temporary injunction while she considers a challenge to the contraception requirement by a group of nuns called the Little Sisters of the Poor. The Catholic organization serves the poor elderly.
But the case raises questions that reverberate beyond health coverage: How do you protect religious freedom when the beliefs of individuals come into conflict with those of churches or businesses?
The Issue Of A Signature
The Justice Department has argued that the nuns’ group is already exempt from providing birth control under the ACA, as long as it certifies its standing as a religious nonprofit. But the Little Sisters of the Poor, represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, argues that documentation simply condones employees getting the coverage elsewhere.
“The sisters, under the new Health and Human Services mandate, are being forced by the government to either sign a form allowing a third party to provide contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs to their employees, or they’re being threatened with fines,” says Becket Fund director Kristina Arriaga.
Critics are asking, what’s the big deal about signing a form? The form is there expressly for church-affiliated groups like that of the nuns, so they can register that they’re opting out of contraception coverage. But Arriaga tells NPR’s Arun Rath the provision doesn’t do enough to protect religious liberty.
“Little Sisters of the Poor feel that whether they provide the [coverage] to their employees or they make someone else do it, it’s the same thing. It’s a sin,” she says. “They cannot in good conscience sign that form, and their conscientious objection should absolutely be respected by the government.”
This gets us to the core questions: Who has the right to religious liberty? And what does it mean to exercise that right?