Washington D.C., Jul 1, 2014 / 14:48 pm
A Christian doctors' organization celebrated the Supreme Court's recent religious freedom ruling, while at the same time cautioning that threats to religious liberty remain.
"We are very thankful that the Supreme Court acted to protect family businesses from government coercion and fines for simply honoring the tenets of their faith," said Dr. David Stevens, CEO of the 15,000-member Christian Medical Association.
In a June 30 statement, Stevens welcomed a Supreme Court ruling saying that Hobby Lobby and similar employers cannot be forced to comply with the federal contraception mandate against their religious beliefs.
The mandate, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, requires employers to provide health insurance that covers contraception, sterilization and some drugs and devices that can cause early abortions.
The court ruled that requiring "closely held corporations" to obey the mandate against their religious beliefs violates federal religious freedom laws. The IRS defines "closely held corporations" as companies in which the majority of stock is owned by five or fewer people.
Citing the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Supreme Court said that the government could have found less restrictive ways to advance its goal of providing free birth control to women, without restricting the religious freedom of family-run businesses who object to funding it.
In its opinion, the court clarified that its decision only concerns the contraceptive mandate and does not mean that other insurance-coverage mandates, such as those for vaccinations or blood transfusions, will automatically fail in cases where they come into conflict with an employer's religious beliefs.
Stevens hailed the ruling, but warned that the mandate is only one part of a larger "assault on the values of the faith community," which greatly affects the medical community in addition to other realms of society.
"We are witnessing increasing attempts by the government to coerce the faith community to adopt the government's viewpoint in matters of conscience," he said.
In addition to the contraception mandate, he pointed to a weakening of federal conscience regulations in health care, discrimination against pro-life health care professionals, and the denial of federal funds to ministries that oppose abortion.
"There seems to be growing intolerance of the faith community by some government officials who appear to want to extinguish the First Amendment freedoms that allow for a diversity of values," Stevens explained.
"We are seeing this antagonism expressed in coercive government mandates enforced with harsh penalties and discriminatory practices that threaten to eliminate the faith community from the public square."