Can the government force individuals to choose between their religious beliefs and their right to earn a living? That's the question in a case coming up in federal court in Washington State. In Stormans, Inc. v. Selecky, owners of a family pharmacy, called Ralph’s, in Olympia, and two individual pharmacists, Rhonda Mesler and Margo Thelen, are challenging regulations that require them to dispense the drug Plan B.
As Ed Whelan reports at NRO,
Plan B is intended to be taken following intercourse by a woman or girl who wants to avoid becoming pregnant. According to its manufacturer, Plan B can operate either to prevent conception (i.e., in a genuinely contraceptive manner) or to prevent implantation of an already fertilized egg (i.e., as an abortifacient*).
The pharmacy owners and the two individual pharmacists are Christians whose religious beliefs forbid them from participating in the destruction of an unborn human life. They believe that dispensing Plan B constitutes direct participation in the destruction of human life.
Ralph’s does not stock Plan B. When customers asked for it, they used to refer them to other nearby pharmacies. In 2007, however, Washington State adopted regulations that require pharmacies to stock and distribute Plan B – and forbids them from referring customers to other pharmacies. Sadly, Washington State is not unique. Other States are using the same coercive techniques to force pharmacists to violate their religious beliefs on pain of losing their license.
Under the Supreme Court’s misbegotten 1990 decision in Employment Division v. Smith, the right to “free exercise” of religion must yield to “neutral and generally applicable” laws. That decision made it easier than ever for States to force doctors, nurses, and pharmacists to participate in abortion and other procedures that violate their beliefs. This case will test the limits of the Smith decision.