Government mandates are once again a hot topic. In last week’s column, I discussed this issue by addressing the case of Patrick Witt, the Yale quarterback accused of sexual assault.
In one sense, the travails of Witt are small potatoes compared to a second mandate that’s been in the news. That mandate requires all religious institutions that partake of the health-care benefits under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) to supply—against their moral beliefs—contraceptive, sterilization, and abortion services to all persons whom they treat at their facilities in order to continue receiving government benefits, some fraction of which have been raised by tax revenues from persons of similar religious beliefs.
This conditional grant offers the president the perfect way to expand his influence without having to endure the rigors of the political process on such a poisonous dispute. But the doctrine of unconstitutional conditions should apply here, as it did in the Witt case. A direct legislative order to engage in conduct antithetical to their religious convictions would be in flat violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of the “free exercise of religion,” which is far broader and more comprehensive than the religious right to “worship,” to which the president grudgingly acquiesces. The mandate should go and the religious groups should receive government support on even terms with all other groups, even those that support legalized abortion.
The political furor has forced the president to back down on the direct command to religious institutions. But now bitten with the statist bug, he just announced that all insurance companies who participate in programs funded through the PPACA will be required to offer the same suite of women’s health-care services for free.