Two Centuries of Religious Freedom Rolled Back
Since 1791, when the Bill of Rights was formally adopted, America has enjoyed the legal protection of religious freedom, enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Today, 221 years later, centuries of progress in the protection of religious and other liberties is at risk of being rolled back in one fell swoop. The culprit: Obamacare.
As we all know, President Obama’s health care law will mandate that religious hospitals, charities, and schools abandon the tenets of their faiths and provide their employees insurance coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, contraception and sterilization. This anti-conscience mandate is but the latest assault on liberty Obamacare has ushered in. Its shock waves are reverberating across the country, waking Americans to the fact that our first freedom — religious liberty — will be the first to fall now that the federal government has unfettered control over the country’s health care system.
Some in Congress are taking action to combat Obamacare’s onslaught. Today, the Senate will consider an amendment introduced by Senator Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) and co-sponsored by Marco Rubio (R-Florida) that would override Obamacare’s anti-conscience mandate, allowing religious institutions to keep their faith and provide health care coverage for their employees. So important is this amendment that The Heritage Foundation’s sister organization, Heritage Action for America, has decided to “key vote” the measure, meaning that it has identified the vote as a seminal one.
The importance of this moment has, of course, been lost on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) who derided the effort to protect the First Amendment guarantee of free exercise of religion. Yesterday he said, “It’s hard to understand why my Republican colleagues think this topic deserves to be debated in the first place.” Meanwhile, the likes of Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Al Franken (D-MN) have attempted to paint the Blunt Amendment as an attack on women and women’s health, willfully ignoring the rights of hundreds of millions of Americans to practice religion without interference from the state — a right so fundamental to human nature that the Founding Fathers put it in the First Amendment.
Liberals in the House have, too, tried to distort the issue and recast it as a question of women’s health, not religious liberty. This week, the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee welcomed Georgetown law student and “reproductive rights activist” Sandra Fluke to share her story of woe, telling Congress that her peers are going broke buying birth control – despite managing to come up with $46,000 a year for tuition at one of the pre-eminent law schools in the country.
Let’s make this clear one more time: The issue isn’t about birth control — it’s about the federal government’s power to force a religious institution like Georgetown University to bend to its will and take actions that are fundamentally at odds with its core values. Religious groups are faced with an untenable choice: violate conscience or drop coverage and face penalties for doing so. That’s why so many Americans — men and women alike — are speaking out against the anti-conscience mandate and its fine on faith.
On Monday at The Heritage Foundation, a panel of women of diverse backgrounds gathered to voice their opposition to the Administration’s actions. One of those women, Lori Windham, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, stated, “We have a Constitution that protects the religious freedom of these organizations. It protects the religious freedom of the women and the men in these organizations, and they’re just asking that they be able to continue enjoying that religious freedom. This mandate hurts religious organizations. It hurts the people they serve. It’s unconstitutional.”
On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee also heard testimony on the impact of the mandate, with attorney Becket attorney, Asma Uddin, explaining:
As a Muslim-American woman and an academic, I have spent my career fighting for women’s and minorities’ rights, and the fact that I must be here today to explain why our constitutional rights exist is extremely offensive to me personally. . . Women, too, seek the freedom to live in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs. Religious freedom is a right enjoyed by everyone, and it is just as much in women’s interest to protect that right as it is in men’s.
Beyond religious freedom, Obamacare lands another unconstitutional blow against liberty in America with its unconstitutional individual mandate to buy health insurance. A judgment on that awaits the action of the Supreme Court. Together, the two dictates — and the others to follow under Obamacare — should be a sign to Americans that the federal government is reaching an event horizon — a point of no return — beyond which individuals will be forever subsumed to the will of the state. Once this door is knocked down, the rights the Constitution protects will be stamped with an asterisk that disclaims, “subject to the will of the federal government.” This is where Obamacare has brought our country. Today, Congress should take action to protect the very first of those Constitutional protections, and then it should get to work in repealing Obamacare.
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