Religious Responses to Supreme Court Decisions


BOB ABERNETHY: Several major decisions from the Supreme Court this week: Five of the nine justices voted to uphold President Obama’s health care law, saying the law’s individual mandate is legal. Religious groups were divided over the legislation. Some had called health care reform a moral imperative, while others worried the law would allow federally funded abortions. Faith communities had also lobbied hard around Arizona’s immigration law. On Monday, the court struck down three parts of that legislation, but it left in place the requirement that local police check the immigration status of people they believe could be in the country illegally. In another case, the justices ruled against mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles convicted of murder. They said courts should have discretion about imposing that punishment.

For more on the religious reaction to these decisions, Patricia Zapor of Catholic News Service is here, and so is Kim Lawton managing editor of this program. Welcome to you both.

PATRICIA ZAPOR (Catholic News Service): Thank you.

ABERNETHY: Pat, the health care decision: what do you hear?

ZAPOR: Well, I hear from some religious groups. Most mainstream religious groups are pleased with the outcome in general, although the Catholic bishops, for instance, cautioned that there are still a lot of parts of the health care law that are not quite perfect. It’s got issues for provision of contraceptives. It has not, what they consider inadequate protections for conscience for medical care providers. There are other things that they want to be addressed, but in general mainstream Christian groups are excited, because this is a way that the people who have been cut out of the health care system because they’re poor enough and they’re not rich enough might stand a chance of getting some decent health care.

KIM LAWTON: And a lot of the groups, Christian and Jewish groups and others, really lobbied hard to get this legislation passed as well so—

ZAPOR: Right. Some of them have been working at it for decades.

LAWTON: Yes. And so from them I’m hearing things like this is a victory for the common good and something that’s exercising the moral obligations to take care of people. But I’m also hearing a lot of concern from religious conservatives who see this as something terrible, the government reaching in violating peoples’ individual liberties. I’m hearing concerns about government funding of abortion and certainly the contraception mandate, which a lot of people feel does also violate religious liberty—the idea that religious groups have to provide free contraceptive services.

ABERNETHY: Even if they’re very strongly against contraception.

ZAPOR: Right, and that’s what the lawsuits were filed over

ABERNETHY: Summarize what that situation is now.

ZAPOR: Well, this is related to regulations from HHS and it’s actually at this point just proposed regulations from HHS about how the employer mandate, that employers provide health care plays out. And the Catholic Church and a bunch of churches, a bunch of religious groups in general, are worried that the way the possible provisions are currently written, they will be required to provide contraceptive coverage, which goes against their faith teachings, and they’ve sued over this. More than forty organizations filed lawsuits against the federal government challenging that a few weeks ago.

ABERNETHY: Go ahead.

LAWTON: Well, and there’s also—Well, I was just going to say, for some of the groups who support, who don’t oppose contraception, they’re worried about this notion of the government putting religious groups in different categories. So a worshiping institution would be exempt, but a faith based school would not or something like that.

ZAPOR: A hospital or school would not. And that’s another fight that they say has long since been settled, that religious organizations get to define themselves as religious organizations. The government doesn’t get to do that. That delves into First Amendment issues that nobody’s happy treading into.

LAWTON: And none of that was affected by this week’s decision.

ABERNETHY: Let me move on. Let me move on to the Arizona immigration decision. What have you heard about that in the way of reaction?

ZAPOR: Well, people are pleased with the parts that were overturned from the Arizona immigration law, the parts making it a state crime to be in the state illegally. The ruling was very clear in saying states don’t get to decide that this is a crime, and under federal law it is not. But they are worried about the provision, the “show me your papers” provision, that will allow law enforcement agencies to ask pretty much anyone who they think might possibly be in the country illegally for proof of residency, proof of legal status in the country.

ABERNETHY: But don’t they have to have some kind of other reason for stopping somebody, like speeding or something like that?

ZAPOR: That’s not clear, but they definitely have to have more than just “you look Latino.” There has to be more to it than that, and that was something that the ruling very narrowly said: We’re going to be watching this. You can’t be profiling people.

LAWTON: A lot of religious groups too are saying that this ruling—there was concern about this “show me your papers” provision, although some religious conservatives said, hey, it’s respect for the rule of law, and so there were some differences there. A lot of religious groups across the spectrum also said this shows the need for a federal immigration reform, comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level, and we’ve seen growing political activism on this, even from evangelicals who tend to be more politically conservative, but just saying that this shows that our country has an immigration problem that needs to be solved, and when you have these individual states coming up with differing laws, it makes the whole situation complicated.

ZAPOR: There was a large group of evangelical leaders who, a couple of weeks ago, came out with a statement just to that effect, and they reiterated that after this ruling.

ABERNETHY: Okay. Pat Zapor of Catholic News Service, Kim Lawton of Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly. Many thanks.

  • Bob B.

    Over a month ago, I sent in a reply to a similar article on the health care controversy, pointing out that the Church’s objection to the HHS mandate was that it did violate the constituionally guaranteed freedom of religion, as well as the fact that it would require religious organizations (as defined by HHS) to fund abortion producing drugs and sterilization procedures. At first, it seemed all news organizations recognized this, and addressed it as an apparently accidental misstep by the administration. Then Obama’s strategy was explained, and the liberal media fell into lockstep, hiding under the “birth control” label, and mentioning only that in their reports. As has been their practice, truth and facts were ignored, twisted, or contradicted to fit their own views (or, in the past 4 years, Obama’s).

    I notice that you, too, are in the same lock step. At least you do mention one aspect of the real issue, even if dismissively. It would be nice if at least one medium, especially one claiming the title “Religion and Ethics,” could
    stand up and report the truth. It’s sad, that while we celebrate the freedom of our nation, we see its Chief Executive, media, and others, systematically eroding it.

  • susan

    If I am an employee of a Catholic supported hospital, but I’m not a Catholic, are they not infringing upon my religious freedom by insisting that I conform to their beliefs? I do not have a problem with birth control and if I worked for any other business, which a hospital is, I would have the benefit of birth control as part of my health care package.

    If they want to require that all their employees abide by their beliefs then I suggest they only hire those employees that agree with them or belong to their church.

  • Bob B.

    In response to Susan: By the wording of your reply, it appears that you are not actually an emplyee of a Catholic hospital. I wonder how many nurses, aides, etc. would place “free” contraceptives (which of course will increase the premiums for all) ahead of the evil of abortion, the wanton killing of innocent unborn babies, who–by the way–are persons with their own DNA, not part of the mother’s body.

    If Obama is reelected, there is no doubt that this violation of religious freedom will be followed by others, to “thin the herd” of aged or those with incurable illnesses, as well as unwanted babies (“post partum abortions”, i.e. infanticides). Meanwhile, like Catholic Adoption agencies in Illinois, institutions and hospitals will have to close, rather than commit what they know are murders. The closures will eliminate a major source of care and education to the poor of all religions, or none. Not exactly the picture painted by Mr. Obama.

    The problem really is a bad law, developed behind closed doors, passed purely on political bases by legislators who admittedly did not read or understand it, and foisted on a citizenry in the same way as people in dictatorships receive their commands. Obviously, the only way to get a good law is to elect an honest and good man who can undo much of the damage done by the present incumbent, and set up a real health reform system.

    Let us pray that, for this and many other reasons, people of faith (and those without it, but with respect for life, from natural birth to natural death) will turn out and vote.

  • Ms. Nedra Thomas

    The Catholic church should not except money from the federal government and expect not to follow the rules of government. The church can not take public dollars and only hire those that agree with their beliefs.If the Catholic church requires that their employees abide by their beliefs then they should stop taking government dollars . Medicaid, medicare, and other government t subsidies.