It has not even been two years since Obamacare was enacted, and already the President’s health care law has taken another victim — the religious freedoms Americans hold dear, as reflected by the First Amendment.
The Obama Administration recently reaffirmed a rule under Obamacare that requires many religious employers to provide health care coverage for all FDA-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and related education and counseling. On the grounds that certain FDA-approved contraceptive methods can sometimes “cause the demise of embryos both after and before uterine implantation,” many groups also believe that the rule forces them to cover abortion.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is calling the contraception mandate an “unprecedented” attack on religious freedom. And in statement after statement issued in diocese after diocese, many bishops are publicly declaring that they “cannot” and “will not” comply with “this unjust law.” As Cleveland Bishop Richard Lennon explained, “Unless this rule is overturned, Catholics will be compelled either to violate our consciences or to drop health care coverage for our employees.”
It’s not just Catholics affected by the rule, however. Leaders from other faith traditions have expressed their concern, and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has already filed a lawsuit on behalf of an interdenominational Christian college that objects to providing abortion and related education and counseling in its health care insurance. “The mandate is un-American, unprecedented, and flagrantly unconstitutional,” says an attorney for the college.
As shocking as the Obama Administration’s action is, it should not come as a surprise. Heritage experts explained years ago that freedom of conscience in health care is closely linked to greater personal freedom over health care decisions. Health care expert James Capretta says that “it was inevitable — only a matter of time,” now that the government is calling the shots and making health care choices for the American people. “Just the sight of Catholic leaders’ being forced to go begging before federal officials ought to be enough to convince most Americans that handing over so much power over such sensitive matters to the federal government was a terrible, terrible mistake,” he writes.
This erosion of fundamental religious freedoms at the hands of the Obamacare bureaucracy is the sort of clash of government versus religious freedom that the Founders foresaw when, in the First Amendment of the Constitution, they prescribed that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Not withstanding that prohibition, the Obama Administration has imposed its will on the very institutions the First Amendment sought to protect. Though the rule provides a narrow exemption for “houses of worship,” it unfortunately burdens their affiliated institutions, schools, and hospitals — thereby violating the freedom of religion. David Addington, Vice President of Domestic and Economic Policy at The Heritage Foundation, explains that the Obama Administration should take action to exempt these institutions and preserve their religious liberty:
The Department of Health and Human Services should broadly exempt religious institutions in its final regulations implementing the Obamacare contraception mandate, pending repeal of that mandate as part of the Obamacare statute repeal. Such an exemption would allow the religious institutions both to adhere, as they must, to the tenets of their faiths and to provide group health care plans for their employees. Absent such an exemption, many religious institutions, following their faiths, will have no alternative but to stop making group health plans available to their employees and pay any fines for failure to do so.
Surely President Obama did not intend what he considers his signature legislative achievement to trample on freedom of religion and to result in the loss of group health care coverage for employees of religious institutions. This is, after all, the man who told us all in 2006 that “secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square.”
New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan cautioned, “This latest erosion of our first freedom should make all Americans pause. When the government tampers with a freedom so fundamental to the life of our nation, one shudders to think what lies ahead.” Those dire words of warning sadly ring true. Obamacare was designed to place total power in the hands of the federal government — in an unelected bureaucracy with the power to dictate the operation of an industry that is fundamental to Americans’ health and wellbeing. With this decision, the Obama Administration has demonstrated just how far that power can go, what freedoms it can take away, and why this law must be repealed.
Mike Brownfield writes for The Heritage Foundation.