Under ObamaCare, Anti-Discrimination Law Trumps Religious Liberty

The three-week battle over ObamaCare’s contraceptive-abortifacient ruling isn’t letting up. Catholics for Choice has a full-page ad in this morning’s Washington Post, urging the president to stay firm. And it’s the lead story today on NPR’s Morning Edition, which in printed form devotes fully 2 of 16 paragraphs—the last 2—to the other side (not bad for NPR). The gist of the piece is, what’s the big deal? “The only truly novel part of the plan is the ‘no cost’ bit,” says NPR’s Julie Rovner.

“Now millions more women and families are going to have access to essential health care coverage at a cost that they can afford,” says Sarah Lipton-Lubet, policy counsel with the ACLU. “But as a legal matter, a constitutional matter, it’s completely unremarkable.”

Unfortunately, they’re right: our modern anti-discrimination law has been so extended that today it undermines religious liberty on many fronts. Two terms ago, for example, a bitterly divided Supreme Court ruled that the Christian Legal Society, a student group at the Hastings Law School, had to admit “all comers,” not only as members but as officers. (See Cato’s amicus brief defending the group’s right to discriminate in the name of religious liberty and freedom of association.)

Here, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled in 2000 that failure to provide contraceptive coverage violates the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, an amendment to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that outlaws, among other things, discrimination based on gender. And 26 states today have similar “contraceptive equity” laws on the books, Rovner reports, which state courts have upheld in suits brought by Catholic Charities and others. She quotes from the 2006 decision of New York State’s top court:

When a religious organization chooses to hire non-believers, it must, at least to some degree, be prepared to accept neutral regulations imposed to protect those employees’ legitimate interests in doing what their own beliefs permit.

Right there, of course, is the problem. As I wrote over the past two days, no one on the other side is asking employees to do anything contrary to their religious beliefs—or not do “what their own beliefs permit.” Employers are not “imposing their religious beliefs” on their employees, as some have argued. Those employees are still perfectly free to use contraceptives and abortifacients. They just shouldn’t expect their employers, through the group health insurance plans the employers offer, to provide and pay for such measures if doing so violates their religious beliefs. But that would be to discriminate against women, the courts have held, since only women get pregnant. Thus does our antidiscrimination law, as found in statutes, trump religious liberty, as once protected by the Constitution. “To each his own” falls by the wayside when “we’re all in this together,” as ObamaCare requires us to be.