The federal government has the authority to force churches to comply with Obamacare regulations that force employers to provide contraceptive and birth control coverage to their employees, the Obama administration's top lawyer argued Wednesday before the United States Supreme Court.
Although churches and other houses of worship are exempt from having to comply with the Health and Human Services contraception and abortion-pill mandate, religious nonprofits and colleges are not exempt from having to comply with an accommodation to the mandate that forces them to notify the government of their religious objections so that the government can insure that the issuers of their health plans still provide the objected coverage under their plans.
Should the organizations not comply with the accommodation, they would be forced to pay upwards of $100 per employee in fines, which for many of the organizations would result in the loss of millions of dollars.
During Wednesday's oral arguments for the Little Sisters of the Poor's lawsuit against the mandate accommodation, Chief Justice John Roberts asked Solicitor General Donald Verrilli whether or not the administration could apply to churches the same the requirement it applies to religious nonprofit organizations.
"I think we could ... Your Honor, Yes ... I think we would," Verrilli answered. "It would be an appropriate accommodation, and I think if we had the same compelling interest, and we'd make the same narrowly tailored means argument."
"But we have constrained ourselves," Verrilli continued. "We've tried to be especially careful with houses of worship. And that's a normal thing that governments do with respect to houses of worship."
For conservative lawyers, Verrilli's assertion that the administration could force churches to abide by the accommodation if it really wanted to was the big eye opener that resulted from the arguments.
"That was the bombshell of the morning," Family Research Council senior fellow in legal studies Cathy Ruse told The Christian Post Thursday. "If this administration thinks it has the constitutional authority to force churches — a Baptist church, a Catholic Church — to put contraception and abortifacients in their health plans for their employees against their will, provided they take the steps the government says they must take, that is huge."
Ruse compared Verrilli's Wednesday remark to his assertion last year during the Supreme Court's oral arguments in the case that legalized same-sex marriage that Christian colleges that object to gay marriage could risk losing their tax-exempt status.
"That was kind of the big bombshell out of that case. His big bombshell in this case was the answer 'Yes,'" Ruse stated.
Ruse warned that Verrilli's statement could be a "view of the future," when the federal government might try to force churches to pay for abortion-inducing drugs and contraception.
"Clearly, the government is not doing that today but the government's top lawyer thinks they have the authority to do that within the Constitution," Ruse stated.
If Verrilli believes that the administration has the power to force churches to abide by the mandate, the question is why hasn't the administration already tried to force churches to do so.
"The government probably hasn't done this yet because they know people would be up in arms if they saw how hostile to religion this administration is. If they thought they could get away with it politically, I think Obama's HHS would have eliminated the religious exemption to this law altogether," Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director of the Judicial Crisis Network, told CP in an email.
"Verrilli is wrong that churches could be forced to help provide contraceptives just as he is wrong that nuns can be forced to do so," Severino continued. "That's especially true because the legal standard is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which is even more protective of religious freedom than current First Amendment law."
Ruse explained that the Obama definition of religious organizations is so tight that any organization that doesn't strictly serve co-religionists would not qualify for an exemption to the mandate.
Severino issued a similar sentiment, stating that the administration's view of religious freedom is "so cramped" that the exemption to the mandate "wouldn't have included Mother Teresa or Jesus Himself."
Ruse concluded by saying that the administration's attempt to force religious nonprofits to abide by the mandate and not churches is nothing more than a "political calculation."
"It is absolutely a political calculation," she argued. "If they thought they could get away with going after St. Patrick's in New York City and forcing St. Patrick's to provide abortion and contraception in their health plans for their employees then they would have done it. This is proof, just yesterday, that they admit that they thought they had the authority but they knew politically that they couldn't get away with that so they didn't try it."