Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor, a convent that wishes for the state of Pennsylvania to exempt it from providing employees with health-insurance plans that cover abortifacients, sterilizations, and contraceptives. (The nuns had proposed a workaround that would ensure employees had access to such treatments if so desired.) Among the signatories to an amicus brief filed in favor of Pennsylvania were several Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Union of Reform Judaism, and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. Howard Slugh and Mitchell Rocklin write:
According to the ADL, [whose lawyers were among the brief’s main authors], the burden of religious liberty cannot be imposed on the public. Nonbelievers cannot be forced to “underwrite objector’s religious choices,” the brief states. “When nonbeneficiaries would be detrimentally affected, religious exemptions are forbidden.”
It’s a problematic argument for the simple fact that if . . . taken seriously, it would invalidate most religious accommodations. When an accommodation benefits one party, it almost always burdens someone else. Take, for example, kosher food, which can cost prisons or the military in excess of three times the cost of non-kosher meals. [N]o one would argue that Jewish prisoners or military personnel should not have their religious liberties protected by having kosher food provided to them.
The ADL’s position would turn this proud tradition on its head and declare that America only protects religious liberty when it is easy and inconsequential to do so.
Furthermore, the brief’s position would significantly harm American Jews. To support its view that the Supreme Court rule against accommodating the Sisters’ religious liberty, the brief cites a 1985 Supreme Court case striking down a Connecticut law that required employers to accommodate people who observe the Sabbath, . . . on the grounds that the Constitution does not give anyone the right to force nonbelievers to conform to their needs. But for the Supreme Court to consider expanding this precedent would undermine the work of Jewish groups, which have long sought more robust protections for Jewish employees who wish to observe the Sabbath.