On New Year’s Eve, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted a temporary exemption to a group of nuns who said providing contraception under Obamacare would violate their religious rights. But the Justice Department on Friday said nonprofit groups like the nuns can easily exempt themselves from the requirement by signing a form that allows a third party to provide contraception. We discuss the nuns’ lawsuit, which is one of dozens challenging the requirement that employer-issued insurance plans provide contraceptive coverage.

Judy Waxman, vice president for health and reproductive rights at the National Women's Law Center
Robert Muise, Co-Founder and Senior Counsel, American Freedom Law Center

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    So to be exempt on religious grounds one has to be a non profit?

    Why shouldn’t any one who has serious sincere religious beliefs be exempt from having to buy or provide birth control, or even erectile dysfunction medication for unmarried men? Or in the case of a Jehovah Witness, blood transfusions.

    You and I may not belong to these religions, but should we not support religious freedom as guaranteed by the U S Constitution? The Amish are protected against laws that violate their religious beliefs.

    • geraldfnord

      There should be limits to what people can assert with legal force that they cannot prove in open court. Anyone can assert that they have dreamed that Yahweh has told them to ignore their tax or rent bill lest the Apocalypse arrive, and anyone must be allowed to assert so, but such should not have the weight of ‘evidence’.

      Any natural person _does_ have such rights, for the most part, the only exception being public accomodations not dwelt-in (I think—tell me if I’m wrong) ; non-profits and other State-created entities incorporated’for the public good’ whose owners and operators get State benefits thereby shouldn’t be surprised if the State intrudes.

    • Cathy

      The assumption that these groups are claiming is that not offering contreption is the opposite of offering it. But the difference is not giving women an option versus offering just that, an option. The ACA does not require women to use it. That would be the true opposite argument. Additionally, family planning has proven to lead to healthier families which is a public health issue.

    • Cathy

      I would also refer to Bob’s point above. Whether a person believes a women should never use contreption or should use it all the time is none of their business. That is why the ACA provides an option. Again, if providing a tool for family planning didn’t make for a healthier family and public benefit it would not make much sense to have it offered. But since it does and that isthe objective of ACA it should be an OPTION provided.

    • chrisnfolsom

      You can always believe what you want – but you cannot always DO what you want. That means not forcing your employees to follow your religious beliefs as employees – especially in health care which is their personal choice between their the patient, their God and their doctor.

      Besides, all money goes into one big pile at some point so at some time money you spend at Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, or somewhere will pay for someone’s insurance which might pay for birth control pills or an abortion – you are basically chasing your tail as there is no way to directly know where your money is spent – so just let your employees make their own decisions instead of limiting their freedom to choose.

  • geraldfnord

    So if Your Christian Identity Bakery is a religious non-profit we don’t have to serve black people or Mud People or Serpent People, and better yet not have to cater ‘weddings’ between members of those groups and actual human beings because we believe such supposed ‘marriages’ to be abominations…and still get the State-created benefits of limited liability and of protection in bankruptcy? Cool.

    Note: I am not a member of a Christian Identity religion, as usage of a Hodgman Literary Tone Detector® will clearly show.)

  • Heidi

    If those “employers” who object to contraception would ALSO provide: paid maternity leave, childcare services for those employees while they are at work, provide health care coverage for families (ie: cover the employee AND the family) and other such “working mother” support services, then they might have more of an argument. As it is, in most jobs, your unplanned pregnancy is your “problem” and your life choice!

  • Bob

    I would sympathize more with Mr, Muise’s argument if it weren’t for the fact that employer health plans were not significantly subsidized by the government. Perhaps a better compromise would be that employers can choose to offer less-than-standard health plans in exchange for forgoing the subsidy. But as long as the government is helping pay for it, they get a say in what is provided.

  • Ehkzu

    Sounds like Mr. Muise has either not noticed what Pope Francis has instructed good Catholics to do, or has resigned from the Catholic Church.

    Not that the Pope has changed Catholic teachings about abortion or contraception–but he has changed what good Catholics are supposed to be actively working on, and this fight is clearly not one of them.

    I’d like to hear Mr. Muise talk more about his reasons for flouting the marching orders of the head of his church.

    • Ed Uber

      Is Mr. Muise even Catholic? It doesn’t really matter, since he has a professional interest in this case.

  • chrisnfolsom

    Does this also stop women from getting hormone treatments for menopause, or for younger women getting hormones to regulate periods and I believe also for some mood issues due to their periods? What about other religions such as Jehovah’s’s Witness – can you limit more then just reproductive services?

  • James Ivey

    Why is it an infringement of the free exercise of religion of the nuns to prevent the nuns from infringing the free exercise of religion of others? Can religious beliefs really include the perceived right to control the acts of others? Jihad anyone?

    In addition, what’s to stop employers from converting to Christian Scientists and declaring that all medical treatment is contrary to their protected religious beliefs such that they can be exempt from providing employees with any health coverage at all?

  • rjasonsmart

    Should every organization who provides insurance get to make health care choices for individual people? So no immunizations or transfusions for some, no mental health care for others. In fact my employee’s health care plan should not cover Republicans. I don’ t believe that members of the Tea Party should get health coverage at all, it is my deeply held religious belief.

  • Another Mike

    If their objection is to filling out a form, do the nuns similarly refuse to fill out their IRS non-profit organization forms?

  • Robert Thomas

    It seems to me that the plaintiffs may dissolve their plans and inform their employees that they may turn to the federal or state exchanges for coverage.

    If private employers want to offer, say, a health plan that pays for medications but not for necessary blood transfusions (or any other service required by the ACA to be offered), they also may be compelled to abandon their offering and inform their employees in the same way that their beliefs prevent them from directly serving their employees.

  • chrisnfolsom

    If you pay taxes you cannot dictate directly how that money is spent so you should not be able to dictate what kind of medical care is being provided under a medical plan – it is between a doctor and a patient – period.

  • Another Mike

    Christian Scientists expected the PPACA to cover care by Christian Science practitioners. Not sure how that played out.

  • Michelle Joyce

    It is so frustrating to hear people defend the viewpoint that women should not be allowed to be sexually active and less they wish to be mothers.


  • Ryan

    Would your guest Waxman agree if the federal government decided health plans should include an assault rifle in their coverage for personal protection as a reasonable exercise in legislative mandate? My guess is she would not, but that would violate the single tenet she is relying on in her support of the birth control mandate…. CAN GOVERNMENT FORCE PRIVATE ORGANIZATIONS TO PROVIDE SOMETHING AS A BENEFIT.

    • Ed Uber

      For reducto ad absurdum to work as a counter-argument, it has to be something that the original argument can somehow more or less reasonably be reduced to. You might be able to compare the carrying of a gun for self-protection to a law requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets, for example, although specifying an assault rifle would not work, This argument clearly fails in applicability to this case. It gives the impression that you regard family planning, a subject which includes both having wanted children and avoiding unwanted children, as a subject of concern to liberals only, where it instead is a subject of concern to most Americans of child-bearing age, and that you are attempting to substitute for it something that you regard as a liberal bugaboo, assault rifles. This fails in numerous ways, mostly because it gives the reader the impression that your response is a matter of knee-jerk politics, and not reasoned. This will sway people who are sitting on the fence away from your side, so you might want to consider your arguments more carefully in the future.

  • Richard Seyman

    Setting aside the legal issues, the moral issue, strictly speaking, being raised by the nuns is simply an objection by the nuns about the use of “their money.” I believe this objection fails from a strictly Christian point of view– based upon the gospel teaching Jesus provided when he replied about the morality of paying to taxes a heathen ruler by saying “Render to Caesar what is Caesars’.” These nuns– like the Church more broadly– are attempting to use the power of money to make non-believers conform to Church doctrines. Jesus himself repeatedly taught his disciples to turn away from such worldly methods (money and use of force–“Peter, put away thy sword,” etc.) as means of moral enforcement. Unfortunately, Christianity has mostly honored this teaching in its breach. It is disheartening to see so many Christians with so little real grasp of true Christian virtue. But at least the new Pope seems headed in a better direction.

  • chrisnfolsom

    Yes, workers do have basic rights in a private company – safety, compensation, overtime among many others…. I would imagine that health care is part of safety and we all should have the same standard. Owners also have the ability to not own a company, or move to another country to start a company if you don’t want to offer the minimum standards the United States says you have to meet – like paying taxes – no matter what your personal beliefs are.

  • Churchlady320

    Every religiously sponsored organization that comes under the terms of the Civil Rights Act – largely for accepting public tax dollars to function – MUST allow their employees the rights of conscience. The example of the Jehovah’s Witness who quit his job is an act of that free exercise. What the nuns, Hobby Lobby, etc. want is the right to IMPOSE their views on others. No employer pays a dime to include any medical procedure. They will save nothing either if it WERE removed. But their argument is that their corporate religious views trump those of their employees which is a total violation of the First Amendment. As I understand PURELY religious organizations such as convents, churches, etc. that are exempt already from CRA standards may in fact get the waiver because the views are corporate – all share them. In any charity, hospital, university, or secular business the CRA applies, and employees, NOT the employer, gets to exercise his or her conscience about their own health care. Anything else is an abuse of our individual rights.

  • Laurie

    Every discussion skips over the first clause: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, and skips to ” or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”

    An “establishment of religion” is the imposition of a state sponsored church on a population of diverse religious individuals, including forcing people to attend, pay tithes or prohibit attending of other religious services. In essence, granting a monopoly to one religious organization. Recall the established Anglican church in England which imposed prison on Dissenters such as Baptists and Methodists among many others. Pilgrims Progress was written in prison for the crime of attending non-Anglican church. The paying of tithes to the established church in some American colonies was bitterly resented and is the reason establishment is mentioned first.

    Organizations establish religious expression, while individuals practice according to conscience. Organizations are on the wrong side of the first amendment when they prohibit free exercise of individuals’ consciences and impose barriers according to their dogma on employees.

    • AgelessReason

      That is not how the Supreme Court has interpreted the Establishment Clause. If it had been then our laws would be completely different than they are today.

      Your interpretation of the Establishment Clause is quite radical and incompatible with stare decisis.

  • Ed Uber

    I notice that Robert Muise persistently used specious arguments, which tends to indicate that he could not come up with any legitimate ones. For example, he repeatedly argued that contraception should not be covered because “pregnancy is not a disease”. It is not clear whether he is attempting to redefine health insurance as “disease insurance” or whether he believes that pregnancy, the leading cause of death in adult women through most of human history, has no effect on a woman’s health, but the argument is either bogus or incredibly misinformed in either case. Furthermore, LACK of pregnancy is clearly not a disease either, and I doubt very much if Mr. Muise wants fertility treatment removed from the health insurance system.
    He also persistently aimed his arguments at a strawman case of organizations being required to provide contraceptive coverage, where the real question is whether they should be required to submit a form. A good standard for comparison would be the U.S. military vs conscientious objectors. In times when the draft is in effect, conscientious objectors may avoid military service by proving to the govenment’s satisfaction that they are, in fact, conscientious objectors. Does Mr. Muise believe that the draft should have been canceled instead of burdening conscientious objectors with the requirement to state that they are such? Also, note, that there is no way in our system that a conscious objector can avoid paying for the military or, indeed, can avoid paying for an actual war.

    • AgelessReason

      Prima facia, Robert Muise is working on behalf of his client, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and not the Roman Catholic Church or any significant religious organization. But, his real clients are the political opponents of the progressive movement. His funding and the funding of most K Street lobbyists are from the same source, whose only goal is to increase the hold that moneyed interests have in managing government for their own private gains.

      • Ed Uber

        I don’t know Mr. Muise’s organization well enough to have a position on his larger motivations. His professional obligation to his client that you mention is sufficient reason for him to give the best arguments he can think of for the Little Sisters of the Poor; his personal and organizational goals seem most likely to have affected the choice to accept this client, and perhaps to affect the way in which the case is argued. This is legitimate, it is how the system is supposed to work. It is still dismaying that he had no arguments that even seemed relevant to the case, but relied on misdirection instead. I found it disturbing that the moderator made no attempt to keep him on track, for that matter.

    • pallavi Oberoi

      Robert Muise not only said “pregnancy is not a disease”,
      he also made a comment saying “cure to
      pregnancy is abortion”! His comment was very offensive and

      I will like to know how do the Little Sisters of the Poor
      feel about this comment?

      • Ed Uber

        To understand this remark, you must realize that he is characterizing any birth-control method that can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting as abortion. By doing this, and thereby attributing the “cure to pregnancy is abortion” sentiment to his opponents, he is both setting up a straw-man argument that most people would disagree with, and demonizing his opponent. This is a very common tactic on this side of this argument, and his clients may well buy it themselves. It is, of course, illegitimate. And putting offensive words and concepts in the mouths of your opponents is one of the dirtiest argumentative tactics I can think.of. Of course it’s offensive. I believe Mr. Muise is an attorney, and trained in argument, so unlike many who use such tactics, he should know very well how illegitimate and unfair they are.

  • Another Mike

    If the motivation to exclude contraception is the religious scruples of the employer, then I don’t understand how the employer’s religious scruples can be imputed to the employee.

    If I work for an Orthodox Jew will I be forbidden to buy bacon?

    • Ed Uber

      I’m seeing this kind of argument a lot. Regardless of the outcome of this case, the employees of the Little Sisters of the Poor will not be forbidden the purchase of birth control, at least not by their employers. They will simply not receive any assistance in purchasing it.

  • AgelessReason

    The freedom of religion, does not allow a religion or a religious belief to prevail over a
    secular laws that govern secular matters.

    The laws that regulate health insurance are secular laws covering secular matters not covering religious matters. Therefore they cannot be negated because they contradict a religious belief.

    Religious beliefs and practices touch all secular matters, and therefore their unbounded nature cannot be used as a criterion for constitutionality under the First Amendment Establishment clause.

    The test for the First Amendment Establishment clause should be whether the intent of a law is secular. If so, and if the law impinges on religious organizations only incidentally, then that law is in compliance with the Establishment clause and constitutional.

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