When it comes to America’s first freedom, religious freedom, the Obama Administration has strong rhetoric – but its policies, regulations, and actions reveal a very different agenda.
President Barack Obama recently issued a national proclamation commemorating Religious Freedom Day. With his words, he honored the aspiration of countless settlers who came to America “to practice their beliefs free from prejudice and persecution.”
Last Thursday at the National Prayer Breakfast, the president, with his words, praised his “strengthened White House faith-based initiative” that has “partnered with Catholic Charities to help Americans who are struggling with poverty.”
However, the President’s lofty words are in direct contradiction with his Administration’s policies.
Mr. President, talk is cheap.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has unilaterally decreed that all employers, including Catholic and other religious employers, who offer health insurance to their employees, must offer sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs and contraception.
This mandate constitutes one of the greatest threats to religious freedom in recent American history. The Catholic Bishops referred to this abuse of governmental power as an “edict” that is “literally unconscionable”. They are absolutely correct.
This is a direct violation of the constitutional right to religious freedom as guaranteed under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Sadly, efforts by the U.S. Bishops to secure conscience exemptions were disregarded by the Obama Administration.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius gave the Catholic Church a 13-month deadline in which to comply with the government mandate. In other words, the Obama Administration has given a governmental ultimatum to the Catholic Church - and her institutions - to violate its own tenants, beliefs and conscience or face punitive consequences.
Cardinal-Designate Timothy Dolan, of New York, the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, put it bluntly: "The Obama Administration has drawn an unprecedented line in the sand. In effect, the President is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences. To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable.”
Anticipating a public backlash from these regulations, the Obama administration offered exemptions to a few “religious em`ployers.” The problem is – Obama narrowly defines a “religious employer” to the point of excluding most religious employers.
Under these new government mandated regulations, a religious organization or institution must disregard their own teachings and beliefs and would be forced to only follow the tenants that the government says you canfollow. In addition, if that organization serves the poor, the sick, or the needy – no matter whether those being served have any religious faith at all - they also cannot qualify for an exemption.
Can you imagine the Salvation Army or the Catholic University of America not fitting the definition of a religious employer? That is exactly what is at issue, a narrow definition, made up out of whole cloth by the Federal government, of what constitutes “religion”.
For example, an estimated $10 million annual surtax would be imposed on the University Of Notre Dame, a private religious institution, if it did not comply with these regulations.
I stand firm for the Constitutional rights of Catholic Church and other religious institutions protected by the First Amendment. I stand with the American founders and their respect for the first freedom, religious freedom. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed and issued a unanimous decision in the Hosanna-Tabor case - reaffirming theprimacy of religious liberty and the rights of churches and religious institutions.
I stand with Americans - people of every faith or no faith at all - who still hold that there are truths which are self evident - and rights which are inalienable.
This is not the first time that elected officials have trounced on the fundamental right to religious freedom. In December 2005, Governor MittRomney required all Massachusetts hospitals, including Catholic ones, to provide emergency contraception to rape victims.
He said then that he believed “in his heart of hearts” that receiving these contraceptives - free of charge - trumped employees' religious consciences. Now, a few years later and running for president, his heart isstrategically aligned with religious voters opposing this federal mandate.
The actions of President Obama – as well as the actions of then Governor Romney - raise some questions. From where do we receive our fundamental human rights? Are they given to us by the government--whether that government be State or Federal? Or, as the American Founders insisted, are these rights endowed upon us by a Creator?
It’s important to me that we don’t just talk a good game, but that we actually live it. During my time as United States Senator, I worked hard to preserve religious freedom across our country – authoring the “Workplace Religious Freedom Act” to ensure individuals of all faith could not be discriminated against while on the job. I founded the Congressional Working Group on Religious Freedom to ensure that the principle of Freedom of Religion would not be infringed upon.
I believe it is important to defend our religious liberties because these organizations are on the frontlines of helping those in need.
I stand with the words of the Declaration of Independence, the birth certificate of this great Nation. Our rights come from God, not government. When government defines what rights Americans can have, they can also take those rights away. In this instance, the government is trying to take away the fundamental rights of conscience and religion -- or force you to practice them in the way it wants.
Sadly, now you can also add freedom of speech to the list of trampled rights. In Catholic churches across the country parishioners were read letters from their Bishops concerning the unjust mandate of this Administration – but not in the U.S. Army.
The Federal government first disallowed the readings on Army bases. Then, after the Army chaplains were given permission to do so, the readingswere edited. The men and women who fight for our freedoms, including religious freedom, were denied their freedom to listen to their sermons uncensored.
The Obama Administration’s attack against religious freedom is wrong and will backfire. In these far-too-difficult economic times, we cannot afford to reject those who serve on the front lines of civil society. Faith-based groups are serving their neighbors in need throughout the country. Crippling religiously-motivated Americans with health care fines or burdening requirements that conflict directly with their conscience is no way to lead America.