« Global Aid Programs Take Political Back Seat | Main | Religious Freedom Ambassador Settles into Role, Diplomacy »

March 29, 2012

How Faith-based Groups Became Involved in the Supreme Court Health Care Case

Some groups made arguments on religious freedom while others focused on the individual mandate.

The U.S. Supreme Court listened to an unprecedented three days of oral arguments on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) after receiving scores of amicus curiae or “friend of the court” briefs from outside groups. While most religious organizations and churches sat this case out, faith-based conservative political groups weighed in with arguments ranging from religious liberty to the legal definition of a “tax.”

0328SupremeCourt_M.jpg

Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) teamed up with pro-life groups such as Americans United for Life to argue that the act violates the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment. The ADF coalition argued that the individual mandate would inhibit religious freedom by “effectively forcing” individuals to pay for an abortion premium because they may be enrolled by their employers in plans that cover abortion. The ADF argued that others may be “forced to choose between insufficient plans that respect their conscience versus other plans that happen to require an abortion premium, but that may otherwise better meet their health needs or their choice of doctor network.”

Liberty Counsel, which represented Liberty University in one of the early lawsuits against the act, also argued that the act violates religious freedom, taking aim at the definition of “minimum coverage.” The law outlines a set of essential services that health care plans must include, and the details of these services are determined by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Liberty said that faith-based groups may be forced to choose between their religious beliefs and complying with the law, which may include the requirement to cover services like contraception that blocks uterine implantation or other services that violate the employer's faith.

Other faith-based political organizations debated legal issues apart from religious freedom.

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) was one of many groups to submit briefs on the constitutionality of act’s individual mandate, where all individuals must purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. Like others who oppose the law, the ACLJ argued that Congress overstepped its authority.

“The individual mandate’s unprecedented requirement to buy a product from a private company is inconsistent with our constitutional tradition,” ACLJ wrote. “Although the ACA is the first federal law relying on the Commerce Clause to cross the line between encouraging increased market activity and mandating individual purchases, it will certainly not be the last if the individual mandate is upheld.”

But before the Court weighed the constitutionality of the individual mandate, the justices first considered whether the penalty was a fine or a tax. The distinction is important because it is illegal under the Anti-Injunction Act of 1867 to bring a suit against the government before a tax is levied (to prevent lawsuits that could delay Congress from collecting taxes). If the individual mandate is considered a tax, the Court could punt on all other legal issues and wait until the mandate goes into effect in three years.

The ACLJ and Liberty Counsel each filed separate briefs specifically on the tax question. The ACLJ agreed with the federal government: the individual mandate is not a tax because its function is not to generate revenue but to regulate behavior. Liberty Counsel’s similar argument rested on more technical definitions regarding the Anti-Injunction Act.

One of the remaining legal issues is severability—must the entire law be scrapped if the individual mandate is ruled unconstitutional?

The Family Research Council argued that Congress passed the act only because it included the individual mandate. FRC gave particular attention to the link between the individual mandate and the requirement that insurance companies must accept people with preexisting conditions.

"The individual mandate is the linchpin of the Act, and the congressional objectives cannot be achieved once that linchpin is removed,” the FRC wrote the Court joined on the brief by 27 Members of Congress, including Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Dan Burton (R-IN), Steve King (R-IA), and Mike Pence (R-IN).

In most cases involving fundamental questions of religious liberty, groups like the National Association of Evangelicals, National Council of Churches, U.S. Catholic Bishops, and individual denominations would offer briefs defending First Amendment protections. Some religious bodies took positions on portions of the act when it was being debated in Congress, but church bodies or organizations did not submit arguments to the Court.

The Court is expected to rule on all of these issues—and more—when it hands down its decision at the end of June. For a complete list of briefs for U.S. Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida, see the SCOTUSblog.

Comments

So I guess evangelical conservatives would rather have 30 million people without health care coverage rather than risk that a penny out of their pockets might help finance someone else's abortion.
They didn't mind when their taxes helped finance stupid wars in Iraq which cost hundreds of thousands of lives, though.
I guess it's just a matter of priorities, right?

The more I read what evangelicals are doing now the more I remember what Francis Schaeffer once said about the most important issue facing the church in this modern age, and that is the issue of truth. The ACLJ's brief described the mandate as "Unprecedented" when I am sure that they buy auto insurance under the same kind of mandate and pay social security and medicre taxes under the same kind of mandate. But my burning question is why do these groups call this a matter of "religious freedom". To me religious freedom is freedom to spread the gospel, but what they describe is the freedom of organizations to dicriminate against their employees in the name of conscience. Whose freedom is being threatened? The bible describes persons as having free will and the church was never commissioned to enforce laws to prevent sin. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, but the way truth is stretched by those who say they are his followers is saddening.

The title of the article includes the phrase "Faith-Based Groups". I wish the term would be more descriptive, such as explaining which faith and setting forth the basis claimed for that faith. I read the names of the groups listed in the article and find their expressions of what they believe, on the basis of what they have said, have nothing in common with the faith taught by Jesus Christ. The mission is not part of the Great Commission, but it apppears to be more power in the political realm for certain groups and organizations. Faith-Based Groups makes you think these are serious followers of Jesus Christ but their purposes ane the results they seek are far removed from what Jesus taught in the New Testament. But now that so few read their bibles many will not even realize the difference.

To Dave C.
There are still many of us out here (including myself) who have long attempted to live out a consistent pro-life stance. Are you old enough to remember the Pro-lifers for Survival, Feminists for Life, the World Peace Tax Fund that for many years we attempted to get Congress to consider for those who did not wish to finance U.S. wars? Some of us engaged in tax resistance in order to keep our taxes from being used for war, only to suffer penalties that resulted in even more of our money being confiscated. So yes, there is a need for evangelicals to develop a consistent pro-life ethic across the whole spectrum of life. But just because that hasn't happened does not negate the importance of standing for life vis a vis abortion.

I am taking a class on the US Constitution at this time. It is an amazing document - a document written to ensure the rights of individual Americans and to prevent any sector or individual in government from becoming too powerful - because all human beings are capable of corruption.

The Constitution was brilliantly written, and is the document that serves to govern the powerful. When its principles are violated - and this will be determined by the Supreme Court - the Law is broken and Americans'
Rights are threatened.

It was brought out in opening arguments that the AHCA contained no "limiting principle." Could this mean that there is no end to the mandates and rules which could be forced upon the American people, by our government, if "Obamacare" were to pass?

Let us be aware that when we accepted Christ that we surrendered all - families, property and claim to rights. As Christians, our demand for secular rights should never cloud our commitment to love and care for our neighbors - even to the extent of giving them insurance coverage. Love of others should be replacing love of self and one's own interests.

I guess the Biblical injunction to care for others (30 million fellow citizens) is lost to the selfish wishes we have to "save our pennies". God forgive us!

Wow. I am astounded at how immediately some Christians will make a judgement as to another's motives!

Clearly our Health Care delivery system needs work. The costs continue to rise, and many are left w/out coverage.

Perhaps Obamacare is not the right vehicle for this overhaul; the discussion was closed, only one party passed it and most Americans don't want it! What's more - you people who are so quick to judge others' motives - who actually knows what all is contained in those 2700 pages of law & regulations?

We do not yet know in how many ways this will effect our lives and our choices for our own bodies!

We are not on this earth to 'give up' our rights when we surrender to Christ. In the beginning God commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and to subdue the earth.

Sin's result (among many other) is the relinquishing this dominion and authority to Satan. As christians we are to exercise dominion and authority over the kingdom of this world who would want to mandate people of any faith who stand for life to have money taken out of their paycheck to pay for someone's abortion. The government is not the ultimate authority on this earth, it is God's word and christians are to stand for that authority here and now. Let your kingdom come your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The same way that there are no wars in heaven, there is no abortion. We cannot allow the government to dictate, mandate or override our conscience.
Separation of church and state is a checks and balance to make sure that the government of this earth doesn't dominate people's conscience. The extreme of this is China with a one child mandate. Hitler with creating a superior race. This has to be stopped before the government takes a license to step into every area of our lives.

To Dale Glass-Hess,
you might object to seeing your taxes used for war, but the organisations listed above sure didn't. It's that hypocrisy (among other things) which I'm attacking.

To MarthaCarol
Your comment says that one party passed the healthcare law. It was passed by Congress with sufficient votes to be sent to the President to sign into law, just like any other law passed by Congress. In addition, you wondered about the 2700 pages, but did you know that not even the Supreme Court Justice wants to read all those pages? That was a question tossed out by one justice during the oral arguments asking if he was expected to read all those pages. So when that justice votes or writes his opinion, I will wonder how he made a decision without considering the entire law. It reminds us that our system is imperfect, even as the law may be imperfect, but there are provisions for modifications as we go along.

I know I am not supposed to judge,however judging from the comments on here it sounds as if I have to be against any war to be truly pro life. I hate war but in this world we live in there is a time for war. And sometimes it is necessary and righteous to go to war to save lives. I don't know all there is to know about why we went into Iraq,but I do know removing Saddam Hussein from power was good for humanity. I remember the pictures of dead women and children who were gassed by him. Whatever our reasoning was it was a good thing. Also just because I do not agree with universal health care I must be greedy and uncaring??!? And I want people to be without insurance??!?? Do you all even read your own comments before you post?

Sarah Pulliam Bailey,

How about some coverage of the faith groups that support the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), including all mandates.

"Supporters of the health reform law dominated rallies outside the Supreme Court early Monday, with dozens holding blue signs that said “People of faith for health care.”"

http://tinyurl.com/7zbsrlq

March 26, 2012 - People of faith gathered in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, DC to offer a prayerful witness for health care. Faith leaders spoke to the press to share why health care is an important moral issue.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Jhm7r7atd8

"The interfaith witness, according to its sponsors, was intended to demonstrate a compassionate commitment to the common good and to provide a voice for the most vulnerable in U.S. society who need health care. Demonstrators marched with a brass band, sang, chanted, waved placards, and prayed for the Supreme Court justices. "

“Quite simply, we believe the decision made by the Supreme Court is a reflection of the moral and ethical character of our country to provide comprehensive reform that ensures that every person in the United States has access to needed care without regard to the person’s ability to pay,” Winkler said. “To do otherwise is to elevate private health-insurance industry interest above the needs of human beings.”

http://tinyurl.com/84qztky

The theological error of the American Christian Right is a shallow doctrine of sin. Like Pelagious they stress "responsibity" and "get yourself up by your own boot straps." Like all heresies this is only half of the truth. Though St. Paul, Augustine, Luther & Calvin stressed grace, Jesus taught the Beatitudes and the prophets spoke of care for the poor, the widow and the orphan somehow the American Christian Right finds that the most important political message is to lower taxes for the rich.

To me, it all boils down to choosing to care for our people, or not. Tweak the bill over time, but let's stop all the smoke screens - do we as a nation choose to provide health care for all, or not. It's a major moral choice.