A three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati last week rightly maintained that a for-profit, secular corporation cannot seek to impose its owners’ religious beliefs on its employees.
The ruling strikes down religious objections to the Affordable Care Act mandate that employers must fully cover contraception for female employees.
The courts have fully recognized the rights of churches and other religious entities to express their beliefs. But that doesn’t mean for-profit, secular corporations are entitled to impose religious preferences, argued Judge Julia Smith Gibbons, citing a July decision rejecting a similar case brought by Conestoga cabinet makers in Pennsylvania.
If companies could exercise such powers, they could impose an array of arbitrary restrictions on workers — prohibiting them to eat meat, for example — as long as it came from a religious tenet.
As a practical matter, contraception is an effective way to reduce abortion, and the voices raised most strongly against the evils of abortion often object just as strenuously to birth control. The Obama Administration’s position mandating employee coverage for birth control could, logically, be viewed as an anti-abortion, pro-life stance.
Most church members reject the church’s prohibition of artificial contraception: A 2012 Gallup poll found that 82 percent of Roman Catholics now say birth control is morally acceptable.
That debate is not new within the church. Forty-seven years ago, the Pontifical Birth Control Commission recommended that Pope Paul VI change the church’s position banning birth control. Paul VI thanked commission members for their input, noted there was disagreement among them, said they came to an unacceptable conclusion, and issued the 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae, which reaffirmed the ban.
Today, a devoted minority of Catholics holds fast to the teaching. Members of the family that owns Autocam Corp. and Autocam Medical LLC in Kentwood, Mich., raised religious objections to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) mandate that they must fully cover contraception for female employees. The suit ended up in the appeals court in Cincinnati.
About 60 similar lawsuits are moving through courts across the nation, one or several of which no doubt will be appealed to the Supreme Court. Of three cases that have reached the federal appeals level, two — Autocam in Cincinnati and Conestoga in Philadelphia — have upheld the contraception mandate; one, the Hobby Lobby case in Denver, has disagreed.
The companies argued that the law would force them to violate Catholic teachings and they would become, against their wishes, morally responsible for artificial birth control use by their employees, if they pay for the coverage.
But as the court of appeals noted, that argument confuses the constitutional rights of a church with the legal obligations of a corporation and the secular rights of employees.
No one seeking employment should have to worry about the religion of the boss. Nor should a mother struggling to hold a family together and unable to afford another pregnancy be denied access to contraceptive coverage because of her employer’s faith.
The ruling in Cincinnati was a victory not only for the Obama Administration, but also the American people.