A demonstrator holding up a sign outside the Supreme Court in Washington on June 30, 2014.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

This Week in God, 7.18.15

First up from the God Machine this week is an important legal fight over contraception and the Affordable Care Act – with the larger trend working in the White House’s favor.
 
With the recent Supreme Court ruling on “Obamacare,” the most significant challenges to the law’s legality have been exhausted, but there are some smaller cases that are pending, including litigation involving access to contraception .MSNBC’s Emma Margolin reported this week:
A federal appeals court has ruled against the Colorado-based Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged, finding that employees of such religious nonprofits must be able to access contraceptive coverage in line with the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
 
Unlike last year’s controversial Supreme Court case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., which successfully challenged the health care law’s birth control mandate in its entirety, this case targeted a federal accommodation for nonprofit organizations with religious objections to birth control. All those groups have to do, under the accommodation, is submit a formal objection to including contraceptive coverage in their employee health plans, so that their health insurance issuers or a third-party administrator can provide the coverage directly.
As longtime readers may recall, Colorado’s Little Sisters of the Poor wants to provide health care coverage to its non-profit group’s employees, but it doesn’t want to cover contraception. No problem, the Obama administration said – the group can fill out some simple paperwork noting a religious objection, at which point a private insurance company can create a separate policy for workers who want access to birth control. The non-profit group wouldn’t be involved and wouldn’t pay a penny.
 
The nuns filed a federal lawsuit anyway, claiming that the paperwork itself infringes on their religious beliefs.
 
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, concluding that “the accommodation scheme relieves Plaintiffs of their obligations under the Mandate and does not substantially burden their religious exercise under RFRA or infringe upon their First Amendment rights.”
 
Margolin’ msnbc report added, “It is the sixth appeals court to find that the ACA accommodation poses no substantial burden to nonprofit groups’ religious beliefs, according to the ACLU.” How many appeals courts have ruled against the policy? So far, zero.
 
In other words, the religious right and other conservative opponents of the Affordable Care Act continue to go after this accommodation for religious non-profits – and they keep losing.
 
But that doesn’t mean they won’t stop trying.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:
 
* The brutal ISIS attack coincided with Eid al-Fitr and the end of Ramadan: “More than 100 people were killed in a suicide car bombing at a busy market in an Iraqi town on Friday, in one of the deadliest attacks carried out by Islamic State militants since they overran large parts of the country.”
 
* This is from last week, but it’s still a noteworthy story: “The black church has always been a place of power for the African-American community. It was where black leaders secretly preached the gospel of freedom to slaves meeting in underground churches. It was where clergy spoke against the injustices of segregation and rallied for the cause of civil rights. And on Sunday, it will be the place where pastors preach in unity about the epidemic of HIV and AIDS among African-Americans.”
 
* It’s genuinely difficult sometimes to know when conservatives are kidding: “Fox News radio host Todd Starnes over the weekend delivered a sermon encouraging Christians to fight back against same-sex marriage and transgender equality. Speaking to Abilene Baptist Church in Augusta on Sunday, Starnes began by saying it was good to be back in the South where it was easy to find Waffle House and Chick-fil-A restaurants, which he argued was ‘the official chicken of Jesus.’”
 
* Another court case in the making: “A Mississippi school district is in hot water after it invited a Christian pastor to deliver a prayer at a school function, in violation of a court order. But the best (worst) part of this story is the district’s excuse for the violation: its administrators are incapable of understanding the First Amendment.”
 
* And Republican presidential hopeful Scott Walker incorporated a theological message with his campaign kickoff this week: “Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who announced his presidential bid on Twitter this morning and will have a launch event later today in Waukesha, has sent an email to activists declaring that his presidential run ‘is God’s plan for me.’” The message specifically starts, “My relationship with God drives every major decision in my life.”