Obamacare, Freedom, and Catholics

shutterstock_104711762Missouri State Representative Paul Wieland and his wife Teresa have filed an appeal against the United States government’s requirement that the insurance they carry for themselves and their three daughters cover birth control drugs and devices, elective sterilization, and “morning after” pills.

The couple are suing for injunctive relief against the mandate under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), saying that the mandate violates their religious freedom rights just as it does the rights of the more than 30 private companies that have been granted injunctions, but moreso — because the law requires them not to provide coverage for unrelated employees, but for their own daughters.

The suit was the first filed by individuals. Currently, 84 First Amendment cases have been filed against the US government over the mandate: they include 44 suits by for-profit companies; one class action suit; and a variety of suits by churches, colleges, hospitals, and religiously-affiliated organizations that don’t meet the US government’s narrow definition of “religious.”

Last month the Wielands lost their suit (filed in August) when a district court   jusdge dismissed their claim with prejudice. The Wielands’ appeal was filed Nov. 25th in the 8th District Court of Appeals by the Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based public interest law firm, with the Chicago firms of Ottsen, Leggat & Belz; and Kevin Edward White & Assoc.

In the past the Wielands, who are Catholic, have chosen an insurance plan that didn’t cover elective contraception, sterilization, or “morning after” pills. However, state-owned Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan (MCHCP), stopped offering plans that did not include those drugs and services.

In a July 18 letter, the MCHCP informed the Wielands that they would be “placed in the corresponding medical plan that includes contraception and sterilization coverage in accordance with federal law.”

Special Counsel Timothy Belz, the lead attorney for the Wielands, says he’s confident that the couple will prevail because the same religious freedom rights courts have recognized for more than 30 for-profit businesses are even more evident for the couple.

“The essence of the business owner cases is that the government cannot conscript a business owner into paying for drugs he believes to be immoral for his employees,” he says. “The same is even more true for Mom and Dad.

“Rep. Weiland is an employee of the state, and he is required to get insurance that covers those drugs and provide it to his daughters. If courts say a business owner can’t be required to give an employee this coverage, how does the government say, ‘You must provide them to your daughters?’”

The suit explains that the Wielands face similar penalties to those faced by private companies that object to the covered drugs and services for religious reasons.

“…as in the employer cases, the ACA is not just imposing on the Wielands’ daughters objectionable coverage for contraception and abortifacients; it is also forcing Paul and Teresa Wieland themselves to facilitate and participate in the provision of such religiously abhorrent coverage to their children” until the youngest (now 13) reaches age 24, the suit reads.

The suit notes that the ACA requires them to provide for this coverage even if, for some legal or tax purpose, they do not claim the daughters as dependents. As long as the daughters themselves can claim coverage, the Wielands must provide it. Moreover their daughters, when in college or living on their own as adults, could by law obtain the drugs and services without the Wielands’ consent, with the Wielands (as policy holders) acting as “conduits.”

“The religious-liberty [sic] violation at issue here inheres in the coreced coverage of contraception, abortifacients, sterilization, and related services, not — or perhaps more precisely, not only — in the later purchase or use of contraception or related services.” the suit reads.

“At issue is Paul and Teresa Wieland’s desire not to either do evil or facilitate other sin doing evil, in violation of their faith. In other contexts, Defendants acknowledge that paying for, providing, or subsidizing contraceptive services impermissibly burdens ‘the religious beliefs of certain religious employers.’ They cannot explain why the same burden is permissible when imposed on individual believes like the Wielands.”

The result, the suit reads, is that “Defendants [the US government] respect the religious liberty of the Catholic Church but not of Catholics.”

The Wielands are active members of a Catholic parish and send their children to Catholic school. Mr. Wieland is a member of the Knights of Columbus. They say they want to raise their daughters according to Catholic teaching about sex and marriage.

“We liked our health care plan. We should be able to keep it,” Mrs. Wieland said when the appeal was filed. “It protected our religious beliefs and our rights as parents.”

“Our case is going to be won,” Belz says. “It’s inevitable.”

To read the  Wielands’ appeal, click here.

image: Richard Thornton / Shutterstock.com

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Gail D. Finke is an author and mother living in Cincinnati, where she writes for The Catholic Beat at Sacred Heart Radio.

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