Constitutional Law 101 …

Mainstream media missed it, but last week Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified before a Congressional committee to rehash her directive that Catholic organization pony up for contraceptives.

Representative Trey Gowdy (R–SC) asked Sebelius to explain the legal basis for what the secretary called an “appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services.”

In her responses to subsequent questions, the secretary admitted she was unaware of Supreme Court cases stretching back several decades, in which religious believers’ rights against government intrusion were upheld by the court.

So, Rep. Gowdy schooled her.

It’s worth watching the video of the trainwreck … portions of the transcript are below.

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Excerpted for the Catholic News Agency 

“So, before this rule was promulgated,” Gowdy continued, referring to the federal contraception mandate, “did you read any of the Supreme Court cases on religious liberty?”

“I did not,” Sebelius responded.

The representative proceeded to ask the Health and Human Services secretary whether she was familiar with the outcomes of several cases pitting state interests against religious believers’ claims under the First Amendment.

Sebelius agreed with Gowdy that the state had a “compelling interest in having an educated citizenry.”

“So when a state said, ‘You have to send your children to school until a certain age,’ and a religious group objected because they did not want to send their children to school until that certain age, do you know who won?” he asked. “It went to the Supreme Court.”

The 1970s case, Wisconsin v. Yoder, is considered a landmark in U.S. jurisprudence. Sebelius said she did not know its outcome. “The religious group won,” Gowdy informed her.

“I think the state has a compelling interest in banning animal sacrifice,” he continued. “When a state banned the practice of animal sacrifice and a religious group objected, it went to the Supreme Court. Do you know who won that?”

“I do not, sir,” Sebelius responded. She was again informed that the religious group prevailed, in the 1993 case of Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. Hialeah.

“When a religious group objected to having a certain license tag on their cars, it went to the Supreme Court,” Gowdy said, in an apparent reference to the 1976 case of Wooley v. Maynard. “Do you know who won?”

Sebelius said she was unaware of this outcome as well. “The religious group won,” Gowdy told her.

The congressman also noted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s recent 9-0 loss in the Supreme Court. The commission accused a Lutheran church and school of retaliatory firing, but lost the case when all nine justices upheld the school’s right to choose employees on religious grounds.

“So when you say you ‘balanced’ things,” Gowdy said, “can you see why I might be seeking a constitutional balancing, instead of any other kind?”

Ouch …

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