Patrick Garry
The Obama administration's assault on liberty
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By Patrick Garry
April 7, 2012

The healthcare law, promoted and pushed by the Obama administration, was recently litigated before the Supreme Court. Because the constitutionality of this law focused on the individual mandate, the Court's decision will depend on such principles as limited government and federalism. But at the same time that the larger health care law was being debated at the Supreme Court, another related issue was being debated on the nation's editorial pages and television talk-shows — the issue of ObamaCare's mandate that religious organizations sponsor contraceptive services that violated their religious beliefs.

This issue concerns the authority of the federal government to institute health care policies that nonetheless violate the fundamental beliefs of religious organizations. For centuries, long before the government ever got involved in health care or social welfare services, religious organizations provided such services as an outgrowth of their religious mission. For centuries, long before the United States government even came into existence, religious organizations tended to the sick, the unemployed, the poor, and the hopeless. But now, with the passage of ObamaCare, the federal government, suddenly, mandates that all religious organizations involved in social welfare work and health care, subject themselves and their beliefs to the government's dictate that all employees working for those organizations be given services that violate the basic beliefs of those religious organizations. Is this possible? In America, the land of the free, is the government really able to do that?

Never before, in the history of this country, has the federal government waged such an unapologetic assault on a dominant religion like the Catholic Church. Implicit in its decisions under the religion clauses of the First Amendment, the Supreme Court has incorporated the assumption that dominant religions will be able to protect themselves through the political process. But never has the Court dealt with a government law that directly oppresses the beliefs of a religion like the Catholic Church and its tens of millions of followers. Never.

This brings us back to the case currently before the Supreme Court, arguing that ObamaCare goes way beyond the constitutional authority given to Congress. Indeed, if ObamaCare is sustained, the federal government, under the trajectory set by the Obama budget, will control well over half of the American economy. But the contraception mandate controversy demonstrates a very specific example of how this federal government overreach violates the Constitution.

For the first time in history, the federal government has asserted the power to tell religious organizations like the Catholic Church that it must either try to fulfill its religious mission while violating its fundamental beliefs or that it must just give up trying to put its mission into practice. This is the issue that permeates the case against ObamaCare, which is such an unprecedented exertion of federal power that it poses unprecedented threats to long-established and well-established exercises of fundamental liberties.

The Obama administration knew very well, long before ObamaCare was implemented, the effect the law would have on the religious beliefs and practices of dominant religions like the Catholic Church. Is that what the Constitution of the United States is all about? Empowering the federal government to wage such a direct assault on the autonomy and freedom of religious organizations?

© Patrick Garry

 

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Patrick Garry

Patrick Garry is a professor of law at the University of South Dakota, and Director of the Hagemann Center for Legal & Public Policy Research... (more)

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