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Religious Groups Seek Protection from Obamacare Under the First Amendment

November 6, 2013 - 6:00pm

For some religious groups, Obamacare is all about the First Amendment.

Defending their freedom of religion has unified Catholics, Baptists and Christian Scientists, among others, with one goal -- opting out of some provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

Miami's Cary Vaujin says she doesnt have any use for conventional medicine or insurance plans.

Prayer has been her doctor since she joined the Church of Christ, Scientist in 1998 in her native Cuba. Since then, she hasnt set foot in a hospital and doesnt plan to start now.

I came to this country because I didnt like that they (the Cuban government) imposed arbitrary things on me, said Vaujin, a student of Christian Science. But this situation reminds me of that. Why should I have to pay a fine for not having done anything wrong?

Vaujin came to the United States in 2002, she said, seeking to escape the dictatorship and oppression of her homeland.

But with the new health-care law, anyone not signed up by March 31 will be subject to a fine, about $95 a year. Penalties vary if children are involved.

Christian Science forbids you to go to a doctor, but gives you the tools to heal through prayer, said Vaujin. Thats what Ive done since I became a Christian Scientist. Why should I be fined for it?

Some groups, such as the Amish, some Mennonite sects and Native Americans were lucky to be on the governments website list of exempted groups. But many others were not.

When Vaujin has a health problem that doesnt respond to her own prayers, she calls a prayer practitioner, a person specializing in helping others overcome health problems through prayer.

But for practical reasons, the national health-care plan doesnt cover prayer practitioners or Christian Science nurses. Even if their services were included in the plan, regulating such practices would prove difficult and the church itself would likely protest any degree of government interference.

We plan to continue pursuing this in 2015, and are also investigating high-deductible options that could be paired with Health Savings Accounts and would cover Christian Science care and treatment. We will continue to provide updates as we know more information, reads the Christian Science website.

Christian Scientists arent alone in the fight. In September the Catholic Archdiocese in Washington, D.C., filed a lawsuit against the government asking for protection under the First Amendment. The announcement came weeks after officials at Health and Human Services ruled Catholic institutions will have to pay for insurance coverage for abortions, sterilization and birth control, things that go against the principles of Catholic faith.

In a letter dated Sept. 26, church leaders put their dissatisfaction in writing and sent a letter to Congress with the intent of Preserving religious freedom and the right of conscience for all who take part in our health care system. In particular, the letter questioned the governments classification and coverage of preventative services such as birth control, the morning-after pill and sterilization.

More than six dozen lawsuits have been filed against the national health-care plan by hundreds of for-profit and nonprofit religious organizations asserting Americans right to religious freedom.

A similar lawsuit was filed Oct. 11 by the Southern Baptist Convention, a group that provides insurance to employees of religious faiths, claiming the contraception coverage requirement violates the organizations beliefs.

Looking to move mountains

Friday, a U.S. Appeals Court for the D.C. Circuit overturned the requirement for contraception coverage for private companies. In the ruling, Judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote, They can either abide by the sacred tenets of their faith and pay a penalty of over $14 million and cripple the companies they have spent a lifetime building, or they become complicit in a grave moral wrong.

The lawsuit was filed by Ohio business owners who, for religious reasons, oppose the requirement to provide their employees health insurance that covers birth control.

Contact Marianela Toledo en twitter @mtoledoreporter

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