A triumph for religious freedom
A local company owner and a federal judge deserve credit for blocking - at least temporarily - Obamacare's sly attack on religious freedoms. An insightful ruling by U.S. District Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich in Tampa recognizes that the Affordable Health Care Act forces Americans to act against their faith and conscience. She issued an injunction this week freeing a Largo businessman from the legislation's mandate that he pay for health insurance that covers morning-after drugs that end pregnancies and a device that stops fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus. As the Tribune's Elaine Silvestrini reports, Thomas Beckwith, the owner of Beckwith Electric Co., views the drugs and device as equivalent to abortion, which violates his Baptist faith. He challenged the requirement.The federal government responded with the same dismissive attitude it has shown toward religious objections throughout the health care debate. It claimed he had no standing to sue because the measure applied to his company and not to him personally and that the corporation was not entitled to freedom of religion. This was a slippery claim, as if religious freedoms end when individuals walk through a company's door. Kovachevich found that corporations do indeed have the First Amendment right to freedom of religion. The finding is consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling that corporations enjoy freedom of speech protections that allow them to donate to political campaigns. Moreover, the judge ruled that freedom of religion is such a core right that individuals should not be forced to sacrifice it in the workplace. In the ruling, she thoughtfully asked, "What happens, then, when the individual chooses to participate in free enterprise? "Does this liberty of conscience travel with an individual in his or her commercial endeavors as a shareholder of a corporation? This court believes it does." Her ruling means that Beckwith does not have to pay to cover the drugs and device he objects to while challenging the federal provision requiring them. He will not be fined. A federal appeals court in Denver made a similar finding this week, ruling that the arts and crafts Hobby Lobby stores don't have to pay fines while contesting the birth-control coverage mandate. The Obama administration earlier had offended the Catholic Church by mandating it provide coverage for morning after pills and contraception drugs, which the church finds immoral. The administration provided only a narrow exception for "religious employers," which covered strictly religious endeavors. Many of the services the church provides - including running hospitals and universities - are not limited to Catholics. After much criticism, the administration artfully required the insurer - not the religious institution - to pay for any contraception coverage, a strategy it slightly refined Friday. This still ignores the reality that religious organizations would be forced to provide coverage for practices they find morally offensive. Kovachevich's ruling should remind the administration that freedom to practice one's religion is an intrinsic American right - not simply an inconvenience to government decision-makers.