Court rejects “right-to-meddle” claim

WTAE News reports that a federal appeals court has rejected lower court rulings that granted Christian organizations a right to meddle in their employees’ personal medical coverage.

A federal appeals court has reversed lower-court victories by two western Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses and a private Christian college that challenged birth control coverage mandates as part of federal health care reforms.

The 3-0 ruling Wednesday by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel found that the reforms place “no substantial burden” on the religious groups and therefore don’t violate their First Amendment right to religious expression.

The organizations in question had argued that their religious convictions required them to deny their employees coverage for birth control or abortions. The law, however, allows them to opt out of the mandate to provide such coverage, in which case someone else would provide it. That didn’t satisfy the Christian organizations, however, because they wanted the power to ensure that nobody could provide their employees with coverage that was inconsistent with the organizations’ religious principles. In essence, they asserted that their religious freedom gave them the right to meddle in their employees’ private, personal medical care. Fortunately, the appeals court didn’t buy it.

As might be expected, the Church immediately began trying to spin the decision into some kind of persecution.

“Such a ruling should cause deep concern for anyone who cares about any First Amendment rights, especially the right to teach and practice a religious faith,” Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik said in a statement. “This decision says that the church is no longer free to practice what we preach.”

In other words, letting individual believers make their own decisions regarding health care somehow interferes with their ability to practice their religious faith, right? No, of course not. It protects their ability to freely practice their religion according to the dictates of their own conscience, without coercion (financial or otherwise) from their employer and/or the government.

Yes, it does restrict the Church’s ability to force arbitrary religious practices on other people who may or may not even belong to the same church. That’s the thing about genuine freedom of religion: it only extends up to the point where your practices impinge negatively on someone else’s rights. That’s why you can’t practice human sacrifice in the name of religious freedom. I.e., it’s a good thing.

The plaintiffs are planning to appeal as soon as they make up their minds whether to go to the next higher court or straight to the U. S. Supreme Court. My guess is that they’ll put off appealing to the Supreme Court in hopes that one of the liberal justices will be replaced by a die-hard conservative by the time they get there.


  1. felicis says

    “This decision says that the church is no longer free to practice what we preach.”

    And the employee’s right to practice what they believe in doesn’t count because…?

  2. Al Dente says

    The Catholic hierarchy, like many religious bodies, is less interested in people and more interested in power. Bishop Zubik wants to have other people, some of whom aren’t Catholics, behave in a manner he sees fitting rather that obey their own consciences. Religious beliefs and dogma are just the basis for his authoritarianism.

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