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March 28, 2014

Against Moral Conscience

Joe Charlebois

The Supreme Court of the United States has just heard oral arguments concerning two linked cases: Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius and Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. These cases will test the constitutionality of the mandate included in the Affordable Care Act that requires employers to provide abortifacients.


If freedom is to win out, the Supreme Court should side with the corporations.


Can the federal government legally impose itself on the prohibition of a free exercise of religious freedoms? According to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), it can. This law, which was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993 and was narrowly written, reestablished Freedom of Religion protection to a certain degree.


Since its passage, RFRA states that the federal government may not pass laws that construe a burden. “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.”


There is an exception that as long as two specific conditions are met, the federal government has the right to enforce laws that may otherwise be considered unconstitutional.


The RFRA exception clause states: “Government may burden a person’s exercise of religion if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person 1) furthers a compelling governmental interest; and 2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling government interest.”


There are currently exemptions for churches, religious non-profits and grandfathered plans of for-profit companies. The logic that would require these corporations to submit to this mandate falls flat. There are currently exemptions for several groups including religious institutions as well as those that have been "grandfathered."


These mandates that would force a corporate entity to act against its deeply held religious beliefs were not even part of the original legislation.  In August of 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a ruling that required the coverage of contraceptives and contraceptive services - including female sterilization – at no cost to the insured. Unelected bureaucrats, not legislators, made this decision after the law was passed.


Simply put, this is a profound case that was argued before the justices of the Supreme Court. It has major implications on the interpretation of the first clause of the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.


Even though it was James Madison who is credited with penning the First Amendment, he likely captured the ideas of others, including Thomas Jefferson, who penned the Declaration of Independence and was a firm believer in the Freedom of Religion.


Mr. Jefferson was inspired by the likes of John Locke, who espoused the unalienable rights of life, liberty and property. It was Jefferson, who, in 1786, saw his act for establishing religious freedom in Virginia pass the General Assembly.


Shortly before leaving office in 1809, President Jefferson wrote a letter to Richard Douglas and Isaiah Bolles. In it he described what he saw as the proper relationship between government and religion.


He stated:


“No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man, than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprizes of the civil authority.




Based on President Jefferson’s love of liberty, I’m sure that he would have come down on the side of those defending these corporations and their owners from what they see as an unfair or coercive act against their moral conscience.


“…I trust that the whole course of my life has proved me a sincere friend to religious, as well as civil liberty.”

“(The Constitution) has not left the religion of its citizens under the power of its public functionaries…”

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