What does liberty mean to you? Normally, we associate liberty with freedom, i.e. the absence of people telling us, “You’re not allowed to do that.” But the Little Sisters of the Poor have a definition of liberty that seems to be the exact opposite. And they’re suing the government for the right to impose this “liberty” on their employees. The NPR web site reports:
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.
Note the substance of their complaint. The government just wants them to sign a form saying they are a religious nonprofit. In other words, all the government wants them to do is to tell the truth about themselves and the nature of their organization. But they object to doing so, because if they admit they have religious objections to contraception, their employees will be allowed to choose whether or not to obtain contraceptive coverage elsewhere. In other words, the law protects the religious liberty of their employees by giving each of them the freedom to make their own choices and follow their own consciences. In this case, the law is protecting the religious liberty of the employees from an organization that does not want them to be allowed to follow their own conscience.
“No fair!” cry the nuns. “How can we have religious liberty if we’re not allowed to tell our own employees that they cannot receive any coverage for contraception?” They seem to have missed the point that religious liberty is the right of the individual, and that this right is what is being protected by the law.
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.”
But of course, they’re not making anyone provide health care coverage. The government is the one requiring insurance companies to provide the coverage, and the only thing the form does is to honestly report the nature of the employer’s business so that this responsibility can be allocated in a way that respects religious liberty. The nuns are guilty of mere obstructionism designed to deprive their individual employees of their religious liberty.