The “Just Fill Out the Form” Approach Takes Another Hit

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The Supreme Court of the United States, which has its work cut out for it with this whole religious freedom thing.

Religious organizations that argue even filling out a form filing their objection to birth control violates their religious freedom got a step closer to the Supreme Court earlier this month.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled in favor of several religious colleges and organizations which had refused to fill out a form informing the Department of Health and Human Services of their religious objection to contraception.  The court said:

[I]t is not our role to second-guess [the plaintiffs’] honest assessment of a ‘difficult and important question of religion and moral philosophy, namely, the circumstances under which it is wrong for a person to perform an act that is innocent in itself but that has the effect of enabling or facilitating the commission of an immoral act by another.’

The thing is, they’re not wrong. The First Amendment says that the state can’t “establish” a religion – which the court has generally taken to mean they can’t make judgment calls on religious issues, such as ruling on whether or not the form is religiously burdensome. Constitutionally, the court pretty much has to take the plaintiffs at their word.

But at the same time, the courts can’t accept and accommodate every single religious belief – it’s just not workable. This is where religious freedom gets pretty murky. The court can’t say what beliefs are “sincere” or when they are burdened, but in situations like this we don’t really have an alternative standard for saying “no matter how sincere you are, we can’t accommodate you beyond this point.”

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