It’s not just the Catholic Bishops seeking to challenge the Obama administration’s rule that employers that offer health insurance to their employees must also provide coverage for birth control unless they are a religiously-exempt organization.
Thursday seven states asked a federal judge to block the contraception mandate on the ground that it violates the First Amendment rights of groups that object to the use of contraceptives. The lawsuit, filed by Republican attorneys general from Nebraska, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas is the first legal challenge filed by the states.
Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning is leading the charge for the states and is sure to leverage this issue as part of his campaign for U.S. Senate. The Obama administration’s rule “forces of millions of Americans to choose between following religious convictions and complying with federal law.”
“We will not stand idly by while out constitutionally guaranteed liberties are discarded by an administration that has sworn to uphold them,” he said.
Well, there’s your stump speech.
The lawsuit claims the rule will force religious employers to drop insurance coverage which will raise enrollment in state Medicaid programs. This argument ignores the fact that many religious employers already offered contraceptive coverage available prior to the rule or that true religious employers are exempt from the mandate.
But Bruning, like most Republicans on this issue, isn’t afraid to let the facts get in the way of an opportunity to play the politics of professional ambition with women’s lives. The legal challenge here is thin, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise by now. Even Justice Scalia doesn’t believe that religious practices get to be exempt from laws of “general applicability” which is, in a nutshell, Bruning’s entire argument.
There’s also significant question whether the mandate violates the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a federal law that says any law that burdens religious exercise must only “incidentally burden” that exercise. Since religious non-profits can opt out of providing coverage and insurance companies cover the gap, it’s hard to see how the mandate is anything but an incidental burden on religious liberty.
Photo from brains the head via flickr.