The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

December 14, 2012

Protect religious rights of employers

Daily Item

---- — "Indeed, First Amendment rights are among the most precious rights guaranteed under the Constitution."

-- United States District Judge Reggie B. Walton, while granting an injunction exempting Tyndale Publishing from a requirement to provide health insurance including birth control for employees.

Conestoga Wood Specialties, based in Lancaster County, has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act. The lawsuit targets one of the most controversial requirements of the health care reform law --the rule that employers must offer insurance that includes "preventive care" to employees, including some types of birth control considered objectionable by those opposed to abortion.

The Department of Health and Human Services added protections for religious organizations. Those exempted included:

n Organizations that exist explicitly to inculcate religious values;

n Organizations that primarily employ people of one religious faith;

n Or organizations that primarily serve people who share the religious tenets of the group.

Those protections do not cover religious organizations that employ people who are adherents of different faiths or no particular faith.

In one of the lawsuits filed by a religious textbook publisher, the judge considered the fact that the company was owned and managed by family members who shared the same religious beliefs and had argued that they ran their business according to the tenets of that faith system.

In that case, U. S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton ruled that the federal government had not demonstrated how the public's interest in providing birth control to workers could be considered more important than the First Amendment rights of the business owners.

It is an argument and ruling that may embolden the Hahns, the Mennonite family that owns Conestoga Wood Specialties, which has two plants in Snyder County employing about 300 people.

It is a testament to the wisdom of our nation's founding fathers that they created three branches of government so that the missteps of the legislative or executive branches can be forestalled.

It is unfortunate that private businesses and organizations must fight the government to protect their most fundamental constitutional rights.

The Obama administration ought to review how the health care reform law can be implemented in a way that more fairly addresses the rights of employers.