Sunday night, the New England Patriots blew their perfect record in a snow-covered thriller at the Mile-High City. Revelry promptly ensued, and not just in Denver, given the Patriot’s status as most-hated team in the league. The Patriot’s cellar-dwelling reputation is due, in part, to its perceived cellar-dwelling ethics. Hence the enduring impact of the Patriot’s recent
Deflate-gate scandal: it just feels wrong to fans that last year’s may have made it to the Super Bowl not by simply being the best, but by breaking the rules.
Something similar has been playing out in federal courts, where the feds were recently caught red-handed. The federal government is in a wrestling match with religious ministries nationwide, trying to hijack their healthcare plans to, among other things, give 10-year-old girls insurance coverage for morning-after pills. Unsurprisingly, the ministries object. So the government uses massive fines for leverage—threatening over $70 million in annual penalties against one of the ministries, the Little Sisters of the Poor.
When the ministries pushed back in court, they initially ran the table, winning 90% of the first round in the lower courts and threatening to turn the match into a blowout. Part of the reason for this lopsidedness was that the feds just didn’t (and don’t) have a good reason for crushing the ministries’ faith—the feds have their own healthcare plans, so if they think handing emergency contraceptives to 10-year-olds is a good idea, they don’t need to steal the ministries’ plans.
That’s when the feds concocted their own Deflate-gate. Call it Berate-gate: To counter the Sisters’ argument that the government was illegally trying to force their healthcare plans to do sinful things, the government swore that the Sisters were “fighting an invisible dragon” and that no one was trying to touch their plans. In other words: Trust Uncle Sam—those ladies are loony.
It was a lie. And it worked. The government was so successful that it persuaded 7 appellate courts in a row. As one misled court said of the government’s stealth takeover, “Call this ‘using’ the health plans? We call it refusing to use the health plans.” Other judges followed suit, and the match started to tilt back in the government’s favor.