Agudath Israel: Federal Healthcare Mandate Falls Short of Protecting Religious Liberty

By Judith Dinowitz. Agudath Israel of America has expressed serious concerns to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) about the Obama Administration’s mandate that employers include coverage in the insurance plans they offer their employees for treatment or services that run contrary to their religious tenets. This mandate, says the national Orthodox Jewish group, oversteps the boundaries of government and constitutes a grave violation of religious liberty.

Specifically, regulations proposed in February by HHS state that all employers who provide health insurance for their employees must cover such items as abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations and other controversial treatments to which many religious organizations, individuals and businesses may object. Employers who do not comply with these requirements face steep fines.

Since the mandate originally went into effect in August 2012, and during the course of subsequent proposed revisions, many religious organizations have objected to its provisions, and numerous employers in several states have taken the federal government to court in an attempt to reverse it.

Opponents have argued, among other things, that the definition of “religious employer” — exempted from the rule’s requirements — is extremely narrow, resulting in a wide range of religious entities falling outside of its protections. Moreover, many have pointed out that the accommodation offered non-exempt religious groups does not meaningfully or adequately address the religious conflict presented here. Finally, the mandate provides no safeguards for individuals or businesses that have religious objections to providing the required services and treatment.

Noting that the mandate might not present the same challenges to the Jewish community as it does to other faith groups, Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s Vice President for Federal Affairs and Washington Director, wrote in comments to HHS that for Orthodox Jewry the issue at hand is, “first and foremost, the broad ramifications this mandate will have on the larger question of religious liberty.”

Rabbi Cohen urged the Administration to address the continuing stalemate and restart discussions by returning to our nation’s “religious moorings” and by basing these discussions within the context of the “overarching religious liberty principle” that “Government should not – must not! – force an individual or group to provide a service that violates its sincerely-held religious beliefs.”

The Agudath Israel representative further pointed out that “government must understand that religious liberty is not a matter of ‘compromise,'” but deserves the deference due a “fundamental freedom” and an “American value of the highest order.” Furthermore, government is neither competent nor permitted to “decide matters of religious doctrine,” and whether religious principles are being violated or satisfied is a matter for religious leadership to rule on.

In his presentation to HHS, Rabbi Cohen concluded, “No person, employer, insurer or organization should have to face the Hobson’s Choice of either violating their religious/moral convictions or facing severe penalties. It is incumbent on the Administration to take the necessary steps to fully protect this fundamental freedom.” TLS.

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  1. I totally understand that it must be a difficult situation to be forced into offering something that goes against their religious beliefs. That being said, where do you draw the line. Every religion has its own beliefs and things it holds sacred.
    In fact their was a story today of a Philadelphia couple. They belong to a Christian fundamental church. They recently lost their second child, because the church does not believe in medicine. They believe that prayer will offer healing. So I would imagine that if you were employed by a Christian fundamentalist, they may want to offer no health care coverage because it goes against their religious beliefs.
    Again this is a very extreme case, but it brings us back to where do we draw the line.

  2. No one is forced to work for such an employer.Plus an employee can always but private insurance.Employers however do not have the liberty of only hiring those who follow their religion.Therefore they can not be forced to do something for an employee that violates their religion.(Of course they also can’t prevent an employee from buying an insurance or doing anything their religion doesn’t allow)

  3. What happens if someone says that his religion prohibits him from employing Jews? Should we say that the employer’s freedom of religion allows such a thing?

    I agree with Lakewood teacher – it is a very fine line.

  4. The regulation is constitutional. The lawyers, however, might want into look the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Although the Court overturned the RFRA as applied to the States, it is still good law as applied to the federal executive. Even a religiously neutral federal regulation has to further a “compelling government interest” and impose only the “least restrictive” burden upon religion.

    As for specific religious practices, take note that the US Supreme Court in LBA v. City of Hialeah (1993) overturned an ordinance banning animal sacrifice as the unnecessary killing of animal while it allowed “hunting, slaughter of animals for food, eradication of insects and pests, and euthanasia as necessary.” The US 3rd Circuit in Tenafly Eruv Ass’n, Inc. v. Borough of Tenafly, (2002), overturned a NJ town’s refusal to allow an eruv on its utility poles because it allowed other private use of its poles.

  5. I would not want my employer dictating my medical care. Some of the medical care they do not want to fund can be necessary for the health of the employee. A little medical knowledge and you would be aware of this.

    I really can’t understand how the Agudah can support this?

  6. Money taken from the employer by government to be used against his religion should not be considered his acting under his agency. To wit, the important late Rishon, Maharik, ruled that money taken by government and given to the church is not considered as if the individual gave the money because the state’s intermediary kinyan effected separation between the taxpayer and the church unless they expressly take it for that purpose.

    Note the grandeur of the First Amendment. The only time a taxpayer has standing to go to court to challenge the expenditure of his tax money is when it violates the Establishment Clause.

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