I am in the middle of reading Robert Hugh Benson’s historical novel “Come Rack! Come Rope!” which chronicles the lives of English Catholics under Queen Elizabeth. Prominently featured in the book’s early going are the various fees and fines imposed upon those Catholics who failed to abide by the government’s bidding and attend Anglican church services.
As I read today’s Supreme Court decision regarding the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”, I am struck by a certain parallel.
Catholics (and others) who, for religious reasons, object to purchasing insurance that covers contraception, abortiofacients, and sterilization, will be fined by the government under the Act when it takes effect. (Or, perhaps more accurately, taxed by the IRS.)
Certainly they’re not being forced to worship at some foreign altar as were their English predecessors, but they are being forced to essentially pre-pay for services that they will not use and, moreover, find morally repugnant.
Interestingly, in her concurrence to the healthcare decision, Justice Ginsburg addresses this very issue to some extent, opining:
“A mandate to purchase a particular product would be unconstitutional if, for example, the edict impermissibly abridged the freedom of speech, interfered with the free exercise of religion, or infringed on a liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause.”
Some are taking solace in that language. I wouldn’t. I doubt that Justice Ginsberg’s interpretation of an “impermissible” abridgement of free exercise is the same as the Catholic charities and businesses currently challenging the law.