The <em></img>New York Times</em> Doesn’t Understand Freedom of Religion
Religion & Liberty Online

The New York Times Doesn’t Understand Freedom of Religion

In a model of Orwellian doublespeak, the New York Times published an editorial yesterday defending the ridiculous decision by U.S. District Judge Carol E. Jackson to dismiss the lawsuit filed earlier this year by Frank O’Brien and his O’Brien Industrial Holdings LLC. O’Brien had challenged the requirement that businesses offer employees contraception coverage through health care insurance, claiming it unconstitutionally violated his religious beliefs and the Catholic philosophy he applied in running his business.

Not so, say the NYT editors, who nod in approval at Judge Jackson assertion that the mandate does not rise to the level of a “substantial” burden because the “imposition on religion is trivial and remote.” What the NYT fails to mention is Jackson’s reasoning:

Frank O’Brien is not prevented from keeping the Sabbath, from providing a religious upbringing for his children, or from participating in a religious ritual such as communion. Instead, plaintiffs remain free to exercise their religion, by not using contraceptives and by discouraging employees from using contraceptives.

In other words, O’Brien is free to worship and practice his faith in the privacy of his own home. He is even free to discourage others from using contraceptives (i.e., he has a right to free speech). What he is not allowed to do is follow his conscience. The government has decided they have a compelling interest in forcing O’Brien to pay for his worker to have free contraceptives—and so he must. This is the balance of freedom that the NYT believes is laudable: O’Brien is free to say what violates his conscience and the government is free to force him to violate his conscience.

But the truly risible and ridiculous claim by the NYT it that by violating O’Brien’s freedom of religion Judge Jackson’s ruling is really “a victory for . . . religious freedom.” Don’t bother trying to understand the logic of that claim because there is none to be found. If a ruling is decided in favor of liberalism then, ipso facto, it must defensible and consonant with the highest values of mankind. How could it be otherwise?

The truth is that Jackson’s legal reasoning could be applied to every employer who has religious objections to the HHS mandate’s requirement to pay for contraceptives and abortifacients. As Legal analyst Ed Whelan explains, “Under her reasoning, the very narrow exemption that the Obama administration is affording some employers and the ‘safe harbor’ against enforcement that it is temporarily extending to others are entirely gratuitous.” Law professor Rob Vischer adds,

[I]f this court is correct in its analysis, then HHS could rewrite the regulations, remove any exemption for religious employers and add abortion to the list of covered services. The Catholic Church could be forced to pay for its employees’ abortions without creating a substantial burden on religious exercise for purposes of [Religious Freedom Restoration Act], and that issue would be so straightforward that it could be handled on a [pretrial motion].

While no one on the irreligious NYT editorial board will be troubled by such outcomes, the decision should frighten those of us who understand the importance of religious freedom.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).