Category: Freedom of Conscience

In an open letter to all Americans, religious leaders as varied as Catholic Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore and Susan Taylor, the National Public Affairs Director of the Church of Scientology, have responded to the Obama religious-freedomV2administration’s “final” ruling regarding the HHS mandate that all employers carry health insurance that includes birth control, abortificients and abortion coverage. The letter, entitled “Standing Together For Religious Freedom”, acknowledges the signators have a wide range of beliefs and that many of the signators do not have a moral problem with birth control and/or abortion, but are concerned with the threat to religious freedom that the HHS mandate represents.

Many of the signatories on this letter do not hold doctrinal objections to the use of contraception. Yet we stand united in protest to this mandate, recognizing the encroachment on the conscience of our fellow citizens. Whether or not we agree with the particular conscientious objection is beside the point. HHS continues to deny many Americans the freedom to manifest their beliefs through practice and observance in their daily lives.

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On Friday, June 28, the Department of Health and Human Services offered up its final ruling on the mandate for all employers to offer insurance plans covering abortion services and abortificients. The ruling itself is over 100 pages, and will sebeliustake some time to dissect. However, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty made this statement:

‘Unfortunately the final rule announced today is the same old, same old. As we said when the proposed rule was issued, this doesn’t solve the religious conscience problem because it still makes our non-profit clients the gatekeepers to abortion and provides no protection to religious businesses’ says Eric Rassbach, Deputy General Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. ‘The easy way to resolve this would have been to exempt sincere religious employers completely, as the Constitution requires. Instead this issue will have to be decided in court.’ (more…)

There is little doubt that America is moving further away from the kind of broad and liberal religious freedom that was championed during the founding period. In terms of intellectual thought, that period was certainly the high water mark for religious liberty around the globe. As Americans celebrate their freedoms and Independence next week, I seek to answer the question in this week’s commentary about America’s ability to remain the land of religious liberty.

Sadly, the outlook is rather bleak, and America will need a fundamental shift in thinking to secure protection for the rights of conscience and houses of worship. It’s evident the significance of spiritual freedom is waning and can’t really be articulated by the wider culture. Spiritual freedom is essential to self-government and self-control. In fact, I make the point in my commentary that the most dangerous detriment to religious liberty is the popular notion that religion and faith constricts liberty. Obviously, just winning mere court cases is not enough. That ship has sailed.

I suspect today’s Supreme Court ruling regarding the Defense of Marriage Act will only complicate matters of religious conscience for churches and dissent from culture and society becomes more dangerous. Secularization of society and the rise of centralized federal power is creating a government that seeks to operate above fundamental truths and the rights of conscience. It seeks to crowd it out and diminish its influence and limiting power upon the state. During his closing address at Acton University, Samuel Gregg explained so well how moral relativism now operates in a dictatorial fashion.

Just before the Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776, John Adams wrote a letter to his cousin Zabdiel that I think points to our inevitable path as a nation without a rejuvenated appreciation and understanding of religious liberty. Adams declared,

The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our people in a greater measure than they have it now, They may change their rulers and the forms of government, but they will not obtain a lasting liberty. They will only exchange tyrants and tyrannies.

 

Acton’s Director of Research Samuel Gregg took to the podium on the final night of Acton University 2013 to deliver the closing plenary address for the conference. Below, Gregg closes the conference with a reflection on modern threats to religious liberty, and how the faithful can respond.

tyndaleAfter apparently recognizing the absurdity of arguing that a Bible publisher is not a “religious employer,” the Obama administration has dropped its appeal in the case of Tyndale House Publishers v. Sebelius. “For the government to say that a Bible publisher isn’t religious is outrageous, and now the Obama administration has had to retreat in court,” said Matt Bowman senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, who represented Tyndale in the case.

Following the government’s request, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Friday dismissed the administration’s appeal. This means the preliminary injunction temporarily halting the mandate — as it applies to Tyndale — will stand as the case moves forward.

The Obama administration required most businesses to comply with the Health and Human Services mandate by August 2012. Some faith-based organizations — including hospitals and universities — have a so-called safe harbor until August of this year. Tyndale does not qualify for the extension.

While this is a victory for Tyndale, there are still fifty-nine other lawsuits currently challenging the mandate. Maybe if the administration loses a few more of these cases they’ll decide that it’s not worth continuing to fight to allow the HHS to violate the religious liberties of Americans.

Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) recently appeared on the MSNBC round-table discussion show Morning Joe and was asked by Senior Political Analyst Mark Halperin to give his personal take on the reality of a world where Obamacare is the law of the land. Here’s what transpired:

JOHNSON: Well, it’s obviously the law of the land right now. Obviously, I’m concerned about it. I think that the cost estimate of Obamacare is grossly understated. I think far more Americans are going to lose their employer-sponsored health care, because there are incentives for employers who drop the coverage and make their employees eligible for the huge subsidies in the exchanges. I think it will explode our deficit. It’s going to lead to rationing. It will lead to rationing and lower-quality care. Here is the basic economic problem.

MIKE BARNICLE: Why will it lead to rationing?

JOHNSON: Because it dramatically increases the demand for healthcare. Thirty million Americans getting their health care, kind of through a Medicaid-like process, while it dramatically reduces the supply. That’s an economic disaster. When you’re taking $716 billion out of payments, primarily to the providers, you’re reducing supply and increasing demand. That doesn’t lower the cost curve. That increases the cost curve.

HALPERIN: Well, again, just to stay on health care. Lots of big issues, I now you want to talk about. But, do you aspire to live in a country where we have universal healthcare? Is that a goal of yours?

Johnson: What I aspire is to health care being governed more by free-market competitive systems. I always use the example of one area of healthcare that generally isn’t covered by a third-party payer or by government. It’s eyeglasses. The free market has actually produced businesses that you can walk off the street, get eyeglasses in an hour, two for the price of one. Take a look at the quality of laser surgery – it’s gone up and up and the price has gone down the last ten years. The free market system is a marvel, in terms of guaranteeing the lowest possible price and cost, and the highest possible quality of customer service. But we’re moving in the opposite direction: government control.

HALPERIN: Yes or no, do you aspire for the United States to have universal healthcare coverage?

I wonder why no one asked Mark Halperin if he aspires to be a real journalist one day?

For the life of me, I cannot figure out if Halperin’s line of questioning has an agenda or not? He’s way too smooth and subtle to betray his own political leanings!
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Fourteen members of Congress—including 13 women—sent a letter to the House leadership today asking that conscience rights be included in the upcoming budget bill. They mentioned specific violations of conscience rights, including the HHS Mandate:

“This attack on religious freedom demands immediate congressional action,” the 14 lawmakers wrote. “Nothing short of a full exemption for both nonprofit and for-profit entities will satisfy the demands of the Constitution and common sense.”

The continuing resolution that House appropriators released Monday would not cut off funding for the Affordable Care Act, despite years of conservative pressure to defund the healthcare law. But Tuesday’s letter, led by Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), indicates that fights over the health law could still roil the funding debate.

[. . .]

“Congress cannot ignore the relentless assault on the First Amendment right to religious freedom, and must act before the (Affordable Care Act) provisions are fully enacted in August of this year,” the lawmakers wrote to GOP leaders and appropriators in both chambers.

(Via: Public Catholic)

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, writing on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), is reaching out to members of Congress regarding religious liberty and the HHS Mandate. In a sharply-worded letter, he reminds members of Congress that there is a clear history of protecting the rights of those with religious and/or moral objections to paying for services such as abortion. He then goes on to address the so-called “war on women”:

It can hardly be said that all these Presidents and Congresses, of both parties, had been waging a war on women. I have seen no evidence that such laws, showing respect for Americans’ conscientious beliefs, have done any harm to women or to their advancement in society. What seems to be at issue instead is a new, more grudging attitude in recent years toward citizens whose faith or moral principles are not in accord with the views of the current governing power. And while the mandate for coverage of abortion-causing drugs, contraceptives and sterilization is hailed by some as a victory for women’s freedom, it permits no free choice by a female employee to decline such coverage for herself or her minor children, even if it violates her moral and religious convictions.

Archbishop Lori concludes on this note: “I fear that the federal government’s respect for believers and people of conscience no longer measures up to the treatment Americans have a right to expect from their elected representatives.”

You can read Archbishop Lori’s entire letter here.

“The Constitution protects your right to believe and worship, not force your beliefs on others.” That’s a response Acton received via Twitter regarding a blog post on the HHS Mandate. This type of statement is a typical one in our society: you can believe whatever you want, but don’t force your beliefs on anyone else. Religious belief and worship should be a wholly private affair; bringing your beliefs into the public square constitutes “forcing” them onto others.

In the latest issue of Faith and Justice from Alliance Defending Freedom, twelve women talk about what happened when this very scenario happened to them. As nurses working at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey elective surgery unit, these women were told by their employer that they must assist in elective abortions. Despite an employment clause that said nurses were exempt from this except in emergency situations if they believed abortions were immoral, the hospital stood its ground, and the nurses were told they would lose their jobs. Their union declined to help. A lawsuit was filed on behalf of the nurses. (more…)

On Friday the Obama administration proposed a rule that it says will appease the concerns religious organizations have about the controversial abortion/contraceptive mandate issued last year by the Department of Health and Human Services. Here’s what you should know about the mandate and the proposed changes.

the-pillWhat is this contraception mandate everyone keeps talking about?

As part of the universal health insurance reform passed in 2010 (often referred to as “Obamacare”), all group health plans must now provide—at no cost to the recipient—certain “preventive services.” The list of services includes sterilization, contraceptives, and abortifacient drugs.

If this mandate is from 2010, why are we just now talking about it?

On January 20, 2012, the Obama Administration announced that that it would not expand the exemption for this mandate to include religious schools, colleges, hospitals, and charitable service organizations. Instead, the Administration merely extended the deadline for religious groups who did not already fall within the existing narrow exemption so that they will have one more year to comply or drop health care insurance coverage for their employees altogether and incur a hefty fine. For example, Hobby Lobby, a Christian-owned company that is opposing the mandate, is facing fines up to $1.3 million per day.

Is there a religious exemption from the mandate? If so, who qualifies for the exemption?
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