Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, joined with other national Jewish organizations (alongside organizations of other faiths) urging the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in favor of religious business owners challenging a provision of the Affordable Care Act, which requires employer-sponsored health insurance plans to provide contraceptive and other women’s health services at no cost.
The Orthodox Union (OU) delivered this message by joining a “friend of the court” brief authored by the eminent attorney Nathan Lewin on behalf of the National Jewish Commission on Law & Public Affairs and several national organizations.
Nathan Diament, the OU’s executive director for public policy, issued the following statement in connection with the court filing:
“As a religious minority in America, Orthodox Jews must stand in solidarity with people of all faiths in demanding the broadest protections for rights of conscience in the face of government coercion to the contrary. While Judaism may not hold the same theological objections to contraception as the plaintiffs in these cases, we certainly have the same stake in guaranteeing the most robust protection for religious freedom.
In America, there is a longstanding tradition, grounded in constitutional principles, of welcoming faith into the public arena and—most relevant here—including exemptions and accommodations for religious dissent in a wide array of laws so that, as much as possible, people of faith are not forced to choose between their conscience and compliance with other laws. To do otherwise is to relegate religious belief and action to second class status among our civil rights—something Jews, and all people of faith and conscience, must resist. We urge the Court to rule in favor of the plaintiffs.”
Under the Affordable Care Act mandate at issue, employers with more than 50 workers on their payroll must provide a range of reproductive screening services and preventive care, including several birth-control methods or drugs. The religiously devout families that own the Hobby Lobby retail chain and Conestoga Wood Corp., respectively, are opposed to the inclusion in the mandate of drugs or devices that may prevent fetal development at its very beginning. Nearly three dozen lawsuits have been filed around the country by business firms run by religiously committed owners challenging the mandate, either under the Constitution or under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The federal appeals courts are divided on the constitutional issue.
The OU joined in supporting the religious business owners because of the far-ranging implications of the case for religious liberty in America. Under the First Amendment and RFRA, a law that imposes a “substantial burden” on religious exercise is invalid unless the law serves a “compelling government interest” and does so in the “least restrictive means” to religious liberty.
The OU believes the Affordable Care Act mandate at issue is a substantial burden on religious business owners and is not set up as the least restrictive means for the government to achieve its goal.
For more commentary and analysis of this issue from Nathan Diament, see his essay at Tablet Magazine, http://bit.ly/1bvSe4e.