Plaintiffs Obtain Preliminary Injunction in HHS Mandate Suit

The U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado has issued a preliminary injunction against the federal government in a lawsuit brought by a private corporation, Hercules Industries, Inc., and its owners and several individual plaintiffs, alleging that the HHS Mandate violates their religious liberty.  These plaintiffs, unlike many of the plaintiffs in the other suits, were never within the safe harbor and do not qualify for the “religious employer” exemption of the HHS regulations.  Rather, Hercules is a for-profit, secular employer whose owners are individuals with objections of religious conscience — they are Catholics.  And Hercules is self-insured. 

Of the four elements for obtaining a preliminary injunction, the most interesting is the likelihood of success on the merits.  The court declined to address the plaintiffs’ constitutional claims (free exercise, establishment, and speech clauses) and instead resolved the case on the basis of the statutory claim under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  Although it was comparatively non-committal on the question of substantial burden (holding that the question of whether a corporation could “exercise religion” “merit[s] more deliberate investigation”), it was clear that the government would likely fail on both the issues of furthering a compelling interest and least restrictive means.  Here’s the Court on compelling interest:

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Berger on Healthiness and Godliness

A superbly provocative column (as usual) by Peter Berger, who this week is on about the religiosity of the most recent coercive legal push to be healthy mounted by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.  A law and religion issue — as Berger tells it — if ever there was one.  And the connection of the contemporary coercive legal healthism to the obsessive desire for (or perhaps even the expectation of) immortality is interesting too.  From the conclusion to the column:

Back to the new war against obesity: It is not difficult to predict the trajectory which this project will follow. Very probably it will replicate, step by step, the war against tobacco.  Once again, the basic rationale is the prevention of illness. Heart disease is the illness most closely associated with obesity—not as scary as lung cancer, but scary enough. The scientific validation of the project is clear—obesity is unhealthy. The same interests that supported the anti-smoking crusaders can be mobilized once again—doctors who jump on the prevention bandwagon when their ability to cure is often limited, researchers in need of funding, bureaucrats looking for new behaviors to regulate, activists in search of employment opportunities, and of course, legions of tort lawyers, salivating at the prospect of gargantuan settlements from the food and drinks industry. Pizza Hut and Pepsi Cola may take the place of Philip Morris as public enemies (and defendants in class-action lawsuits). The same arguments will serve to counter libertarian scruples—social costs and innocent bystanders. Children will again be featured in the litany of victims. (Michelle Obama understandably likes to preach in kindergartens and elementary schools.) Finally, class is again involved here: Upper income and higher education is associated with virtuous slimness, while all these fat working-class types waddle from Burger King to the unemployment lines. Just as the Victorian bourgeoisie tried to convert the poor slobs to its table of virtues (alcohol of course was then the most targeted vice), so the new bourgeoisie bombards the lower classes with its temperance crusade. (One might speak of the eternal return of the Salvation Army—George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara would today be reincarnated as a coach with Weight Watchers). It remains to be seen how far this will go before the Great Unwashed remember that, after all, they are (still) allowed to vote . . . .

Does this have anything to do with religion? I think it does. The quest of immortality is one of the most ancient religious themes.  The health cult, with its mirage of endless youth if not immortality, is a quasi-religion. Its dogma is the obligation to live healthily. Like all religions, the health cult has a catalogue of virtues and a catalogue of vices, with rituals to affirm the former and ostracize the latter. There is also an equivalent of the Saudi Arabian police force dedicated to “the promotion of virtue and the suppression of vice”—an army of therapists, coaches, educators, advice columnists, dieticians, and other moral entrepreneurs. To date (still) they mainly rely on persuasion rather than coercion. Wait a little.

Thames on Making Religious Freedom a Priority in Europe

Knox Thames (US Commission on International Religious Freedom) has posted a new paper, Making Freedom of Religion or Belief a True EU Priority, the latest in a series of working papers from the ReligioWest Project at the European Union Institute in Florence. Here’s the abstract:

The Council of the European Union recently released its Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy, which included freedom of religion or belief in a list of 36 desired outcomes. The timing is good, as countries around the world are grappling with religion/state questions and the role of religious freedom for minority religious communities and dissenting members of the majority faith. Freedom of religion or belief stands at the crux of these issues, yet the Strategic Framework risks losing the religious freedom among the list of other worthy issues. By learning from the experience of the United States in its decade of religious freedom work, the European Union can jump start its efforts and ensure they have impact during this time of global transition.

Adida, Laitin & Valfort on Muslims in France

Claire L. Adida (University of California, San Diego), David Laitin (Stanford University) and Marie-Anne Valfort (Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne) have posted Muslims in France: Identifying a Discriminatory Equilibrium. The abstract follows.

Evidence about the assimilation patterns of Muslim immigrants in Western countries is inconclusive because current research fails to isolate the effect of religion from that of typical confounds, such as race, ethnicity or nationality. A unique identification strategy allows us to isolate the effect of religion. Survey data collected in France in 2009 indicate that Muslim immigrants assimilate less than do their Christian counterparts, and that this difference does not decrease with the time immigrants spend in France. Experimental games reveal that the persistence of Muslims’ lower assimilation is consistent with Muslims and rooted French being locked in a bad equilibrium whereby: (i) rooted French exhibit taste-based discrimination against those they are able to identify as Muslims; (ii) Muslims trust rooted French and French institutions less than do Christians.

Hryn (ed.), “Churches and States”

This December, Harvard University Press will publish Churches and States: Studies on the History of Christianity in Ukraine edited by Halyna Hryn (Editor, Harvard Ukrainian Studies). The publisher’s description follows.

This book collects nine articles that originally appeared in the journal Harvard Ukrainian Studies and that arose from the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute’s Millennium Project, an initiative launched in the 1980s to celebrate one thousand years of the Christianization of Kyivan Rus´. The articles cover a wide array of subjects: the ecclesiastical structure of the Christian Church in Rus´ in its earliest period (Andrzej Poppe); the conflict between Orthodoxy and the Uniate Church from 1569 to 1700 (Teresa Chynczewska-Hennel); an account of the Uniate Church and the partitions of Poland (Larry Wolff); the transformation of the Greek Catholic Church under the Austrian Empire (1848–1914) (John-Paul Himka); the Greek Catholic Church in the period between the two World Wars (Andrew Sorokowski); a rethinking of the relationship of Church and society in Galician Ukraine from 1914 to 1944 (Bohdan Budurowycz); and the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine during the interwar period (Bohdan Bociurkiw). The book concludes with a bio-bibliography of Bohdan Bociurkiw, a scholar who devoted his career to the study of Ukrainian Church history (Andrii Krawchuk). These essays provide new insights and a fresh perspective to the discipline.