Sunday, November 27, 2011

Group fails to convince federal appeals court that God’s protection is better than health insurance



A U.S. Court of Appeals has rejected the arguments offered by five plaintiffs that the Affordable Care Act violates their religious freedom. The court ruled that Congress did not overstep its authority in requiring people to buy health insurance or in the alternative pay a shared responsibility payment beginning in 2014. The Affordable Care Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law on March 23, 2010 seeks to curb rising health care costs and provide greater coverage for the more than 45 million Americans who are uninsured.  The ACA calls for a requirement that each individual obtain health care coverage or pay a monetary penalty.  It is this mandate that the plaintiffs, who are represented by the American Center for Law and Justice, claimed in a 2010 lawsuit was unconstitutional. The ACLJ is a conservative legal group founded by evangelist, Pat Robertson.
The group argued they could afford health insurance coverage but chose not to purchase it because they believe God protects them from harm and therefore they have no need for health insurance. To purchase health insurance, they said, would conflict with their faith by insisting they perform an act “that implies they doubt God’s ability to provide for their health.” One plaintiff insisted that he so firmly believes in the importance of relying on God to maintain his health that he has instructed his family and friends that should he be stricken with a serious health issue they should pray for him and God will heal him of any conditions or diseases that may affect him.
The appeals court rejected this argument after finding the Act places no pressure on the plaintiffs to modify their behavior or to violate their beliefs because the ACA permits them to pay a shared responsibility payment in lieu of actually obtaining health insurance. The group claims the shared responsibility payment is a penalty for declining to “violate their faith.”
The government countered that health care is a unique market and that even though the plaintiffs allege they do not need health insurance, they can't ensure that an emergency might occur down the road where they will need medical care that could cost thousands of dollars. It pointed to studies that show the uninsured cost other market players nearly $43 billion in 2008. The appeals court determined that the Act does not place any substantial burden on the plaintiffs’ exercise of their faith and noted that even if it did, the requirement that they purchase health insurance or pay the penalty is the least restrictive means of serving a compelling governmental interest.
In my opinion, I feel the federal appeals court was correct in finding that the Affordable Care Act does not infringe on anyone's religious freedom. Anyone can choose not to participate, whether it be for religious or for other reasons.  If an individual decides not to buy insurance then they pay a fee not to participate.  That "shared responsibility" payment is something anyone, not just someone belonging to a religious group, will have to pay.  There is no undue burden on those who, for alleged religious reasons decide not to buy insurance. Individuals are still free to believe whatever they want.  The act does not force them to go to a doctor or to see medical specialists, but rather is mandating that all Americans share in the responsibility of working together to help get control over medical and health expenses that have been spiraling out of control.
            It is interesting to note that the complaint and all of the subsequent court decisions do not mention what religion the plaintiffs who brought the case belong to. However, the arguments brought forth against the Affordable Care Act can be related to the views of the Christian Scientists. Like we learned in class about this group, they do not believe in medical intervention. To the Christian Scientists, God is the sole healer, thus in times of sickness, this group turns to prayers of healing rather than any form of medical aid. Whether or not the Christian Scientists are the group behind this case, I feel they, too would reject the ACA. Even though groups like the Christian Scientists exist, I stand behind the Federal Appeals court and believe that the Affordable Care Act is neither inhibiting religion nor infringing on beliefs, thus their religious freedoms are not being violated.

18 comments:

Harry R. said...

I agree with Jean that these religious beliefs do not legitimize an exemption in this case. The law only provides two options, to pay for health insurance or to pay a fee. The law does not concern itself with the reasoning for one of these choices. This law does not restrict the way in which one can practice a religion and is neutral towards religion and non-religion.

TNTbo said...

I agree with Jean, if these Religious groups were exempt from paying any fee that would go toward our Nation's Health Care, that would be considered fostering a religious group. Everyone should pay for this privilege even if they choose not to take advantage of what it has to offer. This is a completely unbiased method of insuring our nation and providing health care for those who cannot afford it. This Affordable Care Act saves our nation Billions of dollars, and takes a heavy burden away from our tax payers.

Elena T said...

I am in agreement with Jean, regardless of religious affiliation they should have to support our country. Even though they do not wish to utilize our Health Care system, others do. Also, had the courts ruled that is was an infringement on their rights and they didn't have to pay, I think that would have been an establishment of religion. Therefore, I agree with the courts ruling, this is constitutional.

Allison S said...

I agree with Jean and the above comments. The Affordable Care Act was not created to impede any religious beliefs. The purpose of this act is to curb rising health care costs and help provide more coverage for uninsured Americans. The government is not forcing these five people to buy health insurance; they merely have to pay a fee. The two options do not restrict this group from practicing their religious belief which makes it neutral. Had the court exempted this religious group from paying for health care then the government would be favoring one religion over other religions as well as nonreligion. I believe that the court ruled properly in this case.

Annie M said...

There are some exemptions that just cannot be made due to the betterment of society. Giving this exemption would be considering establishment or at least excessive entanglement in supporting religion. If they allow such an exemption from paying the fee, there also could be slippery slope action. People for reasons outside religion and simply just not wanting to pay would ask for the exemption as well. Our Nation's Health Care is far too important and helps too many people to make any exemptions.

Chris R. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris R. said...

I completely disagree with all of the above comments. Since when is fining individuals for practicing their religious beliefs constitutional? This law may seem neutral on the surface, but it places an excessive and undue burden on these religious groups for practicing their beliefs. This is a clear violation of the Free Exercise Clause. Regardless of how one feels about government intervention in health care, it cannot be denied that this religious group, if it decides to hold true to its beliefs, will be fined because of it.

PamelaR said...

I think that allowing a religious exemption to this law would advantage religion over nonreligion because many citizens are opposed to mandatory health insurance for nonreligious reasons, and they would not be allowed an exemption. It's also not true that someone without health insurance is only burdening themselves-- if they require medical care and are uninsured, a hospital isn't going to tell them they're "out of luck"-- they'll provide them with medical care funded by taxpayers.

Molly Veelguski said...

I agree with Jean on this issue. The ACA was not created to inhibit any religion. Rather it was designed to help Americans with their health care costs and help relieve the amount of taxes placed on them. I have to agree with the fact that this is an unbiased method of protecting and helping our nation. An exemption would only create violations of the First Amendment and result in the slippery slope effect. The law is not concerning itself with religion and therefore does not restrict any practice of religion. I believe it is neutral and everyone should be on board for this law.

Kathryn M. said...

I agree with Chris. Religious individuals should receive an exemption to the requirement by the Affordable Care Act that people must buy health insurance or pay a shared responsibility payment. This penalty, though seemingly neutral in principle, is a blatant violation of the Free Exercise Clause in practice. Many of the above comments emphasize that this fine is a shared responsibility, contributing to the betterment of society. Nevertheless, based on precedent in United States v. Seeger, even duties to the state, such as serving in the armed forces, can be granted exemptions based on one’s personal morale codes. Given that Seeger was given an exemption to military service, despite concerns about compelling state interest, religious groups like Christian Scientists should be granted an exemption from the monetary penalty since their funds will be indirectly contributing to a program that is against their beliefs.

David P said...

I think this relates back to the discussion on Christian Science, more specifically because this particular group does not use healthcare, but relies solely on faith healing, are they putting people at risk (or in this case exempt from healthcare)?
I think if they do not want to be covered by healthcare, they should not have to be, religious aspects aside. Even within religious groups like Christian Science who strictly do not allow doctors or modern medicine, why should they be forced to buy healthcare if they believe God will heal them without modern science or drugs.

Andrew Lichtenauer said...

I agree with Jean. It may at first seem reasonable to provide the ACLJ with a tax exemption because they do not believe that healthcare is necessary for their survival. However, when we look at this situation from a national standpoint, we understand that healthcare is a burden that each and every American citizen must bear. Thus every American must contribute to healthcare regardless of their gender, race or religious affiliation.

Christy said...

I agree with Chris and Kathryn that the religious should be given an exemption. Whether people are against health care for religious purposes or not, they should not have to pay in order to do so. This is a violation of the Free Exercise Clause since the religious individuals are being burdened based on their religious beliefs.

Ashley R said...

I disagree with the Court’s decision. The Court affirms that government can force people to financially support and buy into a system that violates their faith. The Constitution does not permit the government to mandate that people pay for services that contradict one’s religious beliefs. The whole notion employed by the Court of collective interests and responsibilities is a sham. If something violates your religious beliefs you should not have to pay into it, for to do so would be a personal attack on your faith. The Court rules that government can force people to effectively contradict their religious beliefs; this is a travesty and an unconstitutional one at that.

Zermeno A. said...

I also agree with Jean in that The Affordable Care Act was simply brought about with hopes of minimizing the steady rising costs of health care and to better insure coverage for many uninsured Americans. At no time, were these individuals urged to move away from their religious beliefs, but it would simply be seen as unfair and a strong sense of favoratism to grant them an exclusion. I agree with the courts ruling because if it had been otherwise, they would have made way for a slippery-slope, in which many individuals would choose to opt. out of paying for the health insurance or the fee.

Callie B said...

I was incredibly torn about this case for the longest time. The most persuasive argument for upholding the Court's decision is that it does not prohibit on the group's belief in prayer nor does it prohibit the manner in which they practice their religion, they are not being forced to seek medical help. However, ultimately, it seems that this is a case in which a minority religion faces a burden with a 'neutral' law whereas previously, other more familiar religions (Yoder) have been granted exemptions to a 'neutral' law. This is completely inconsistent. In order to uphold the consistency of free exercise the group must get an exemption.

BryceS said...

I disagree with Jean as I find that asking a religious group that has demonstrated sincerity in their beliefs and actions to pay a fine for not supporting this "privilege" is entirely ridiculous. I believe this issue extends far beyond the religious context and contradicts the principles that underlie the founding of this nation. While I could write a novel on this health care issue as a whole, from a religious standpoint it is completely wrong (according to our reasoning for implementing the First Amendment)to require someone to pay the government if they chose to violate their religious beliefs.

kanderson said...

I actually think that they should not have to pay into it, if they know for a fact that they will not be using the health care. But i am concerned about a slipperly slope with this situation. I worry that if you let them get an exemption then everyone will want one (everyone meaning people who can't afford and those who just dont care). So, then the plan wont work. I do not know how to prevent this but I do feel that if they are not going to use the medical treatment, ever, (even if they or their family member is on their death bed), then they should not have to pay.