While everyone has been talking about the Hobby Lobby case pending before the Supreme Court, there has been very little, if any, attention being given to another case involving religion and contraception. On Tuesday, a US District Court in Alabama decided that providing contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act is not a violation of religious freedoms as claimed by EWTN.
The United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama ruled late Tuesday afternoon that the federal requirement that health insurance plans provide contraceptive coverage does not violate the religious free exercise rights of Mobile-based Eternal World Television Network (EWTN)—the largest religious media network in the world. (Source)
EWTN is the largest religious media company in the world, and started broadcasting back in 1981. It is Catholic, extremely conservative and has inserted itself into political matters in the past despite being a tax-exempt non-profit religious organization. So it’s no wonder that they took it upon themselves to add their own challenge to the ACA under the guise of “religious freedom,” even though there’s a special exemption for directly covering contraception designed just for non-profit entities like EWTN that cite religious beliefs.
The law provides that non-profit entities which object to providing contraception based on religious beliefs can sign a waiver allowing a third-party to absorb the responsibility for that part of the plan. By doing so, EWTN would no longer be the one providing the contraception. EWTN argued, however, that the action of signing the waiver itself violated EWTN’s religious exercise rights and its right to be free from compelled speech. The Court rejected all of EWTN’s arguments. (Source)
Unlike EWTN, Hobby Lobby is a for-profit entity which is the difference between this case and the one currently before the Supreme Court, where the EWTN case may end up heading as well. Does EWTN have an argument here? Not really. I’m not a legal expert but signing an opt-out waiver which turns over mandated responsibilities for healthcare coverage to a third-party doesn’t strike me as compelled speech. Previous cases before the Supreme Court did not deal with a voluntary opt-out but instead with private citizens refusing to salute the flag or schools receiving federal funding barring military recruiters. In the cases cited, the Supreme Court held that individuals could not be compelled to engage in expression which violated their religious beliefs but in the case of schools refusing to allow military recruiters (Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights), they ruled the following:
The Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, held that the Solomon Amendment regulated conduct, not speech, and was therefore constitutional. Including military recruiters in receptions and interviews does not necessarily indicate university endorsement of the recruiters, so requiring their inclusion does not constitute compelled speech in violation of the First Amendment. (Source)
In other words, the schools weren’t being forced to include recruiters. They were certainly welcome to stop accepting federal funding, at which point the schools could theoretically bar anybody they wanted as they were no longer federally funded. Compelled speech means that you don’t have an alternative and you are being forced to engage in behavior which is in violation of your religious beliefs, which is what EWTN is arguing. But EWTN certainly has an alternative; they can provide contraception coverage in their insurance, or they can use the waiver which releases that responsibility to another entity. Signing away your participation is not compelled speech, it is in fact, your own personal free speech stating that you have a religious objection and you are exercising your 1st Amendment right by opting out.
As I’ve previously stated, cases like Hobby Lobby or EWTN aren’t really about religious objections or compelled speech. They are an attempt to redefine what religious freedom is to allow an employer or religious organization to jam their doctrine down the throats of anyone who works for them, not just in the workplace, but even in their bedroom. These cases are also an end run on the Affordable Care Act to undermine and weaken it in any way possible. EWTN is not being forced to participate in compelled speech, nor are they being forced to provide contraceptive coverage. This is simply another example of an organization claiming persecution when it can’t force their political beliefs on others while trying to undermine a law they don’t like, AND enjoying a tax-exempt status at the same time. EWTN has three choices: they can provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plan, they can sign the release of responsibility, or they can go ahead and just admit they’re engaging in political action – and start paying taxes like the rest of us.
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