Wicker: Supreme Court Considers Pivotal Case on Religious Freedom

Health-Care Law Should Not Violate Americans’ Right of Conscience

March 31, 2014

The Obama Administration’s intrusiveness into Americans’ daily lives is again under scrutiny by the Supreme Court. This time the justices will determine whether the President’s health-care law violates the right to religious freedom under the First Amendment and statutory law.

At the center of the debate is the health-care law’s requirement for employers to offer insurance plans with certain forms of contraceptives. Two family-owned companies, Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties, say these contraceptives go against their long-held religious beliefs. The owners decided to challenge the law in court because they are faced with an unacceptable dilemma: subvert their faith to comply with Obamacare or incur massive financial penalties for not providing the plans mandated by the government.

Defending the Religious Freedom Restoration Act

During the case’s oral arguments on March 25, lawyer Paul Clement explained that the position of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties is supported not only by the First Amendment but also by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Congress enacted RFRA in 1993 – with strong bipartisan support – to allow Americans to practice our religion according to conscience unless a “compelling government interest” is at stake.

As Clement noted, religious employers like churches and monasteries are already exempted from covering the contraceptives they oppose. Family business that have similar religious objections should be treated the same.

In January, I joined 15 of my colleagues in the Senate and 72 members in the House of Representatives to file an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in support of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties. The brief reiterated that the health-care law should not infringe Americans’ right of conscience. Part of what makes America exceptional is the constitutional assurance that everyone can exercise his or her religious beliefs free from government persecution.

Administration Issues Another Delay

Legal issues are not the only concern marking the health-care law’s fourth anniversary this month. The Obama Administration has broken yet another promise with an extension of the March 31 deadline for enrollment in the federal insurance marketplaces. The postponement – which comes after White House officials repeatedly insisted that the deadline was firm – is among a litany of arbitrary changes that the Administration has made to the law’s implementation when politically convenient.

Exchanges Not Drawing Young Adults

Reports also indicate that the enrollment of young, healthy adults is lagging behind expectations – a particularly disastrous circumstance since the Administration and policy experts agree that the participation of these adults is needed to keep the exchanges stable. It is still unclear exactly how many enrollees have paid their premiums and how many were previously uninsured.

The health-care law’s implementation has been fraught with problems at nearly every turn, from continuous delays to attacks on religious freedom. I am hopeful that the Supreme Court case will be a victory for the constitutional protection of religious rights and that Obamacare will be repealed and replaced before any more damage is done to the health care, finances, and constitutional freedoms of the American people.