2012-02-24 / Milestones

It’s My Turn

Defend Religious Liberty
By Congressman Bob Turner

Congressman Turner Congressman Turner Last August, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a rule that requires private employers to provide free insurance coverage for all FDA-approved prescription contraceptives.

This mandate includes devices and drugs that have abortion-causing properties, including IUDs and the “morning-after” pills Ella and Plan B.

The Department offered a narrow exemption to religious employers, but only to organizations dedicated to the teaching of religious values that primarily employ and serve persons who share their religious beliefs. On January 20, it announced that religious groups had twelve months to comply with the mandate. Many faith-based organizations, including Catholic charities, hospitals and schools, have theological and ethical objections to contraceptives. Yet these groups can avoid crippling fines only by ceasing their service to people of all faiths or by compromising their ethical and moral values. Such blatant coercion tears at the very fabric of American society.

At issue is the fundamental relationship between Church and State. Our Founding Fathers so valued religion in public life that the first enumerated right in the Constitution is that Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. The Administration has undermined this fundamental freedom by requiring faith-based organizations to surrender their religious identity as soon as they enter the public sphere. It has audaciously asserted the power to determine what activities are religious, and declared that serving the poor and caring for the sick are purely secular pursuits. Religious freedom is thus relegated to entirely private affairs.

Requiring faith-based organizations to be religious only in the ways the government permits overthrows the pluralism that has been a hallmark of American public life. The Administration’s rigid secular approach subverts religious liberty to the whims of governmental authority. Under the policy, a church dedicated to public service is no longer allowed to be a church.

The Supreme Court recently considered these issues in the Hosanna-Tabor case. During oral arguments, Leondra Kruger, Assistant to the Solicitor General, asserted that a church enjoyed constitutional protection when it was “operating internally to promulgate and express religious belief internally,” but surrendered these rights when it “decided to open its doors to the public to provide the …socially beneficial service of educating children for a fee.” The Supreme Court wisely rejected the Administration’s position, and issued a unanimous 9-0 decision reaffirming the right of churches to make ministerial hiring decisions and control their own internal affairs.

When government becomes so obsessed with mandates that it is willing to trample the religious liberty of organizations dedicated to public service, every American should be concerned. As Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan noted, “Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience. This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights.”

Religious liberty transcends partisan politics. At issue are the rights provided by the Constitution and the unalienable rights endowed to us by our Creator. To redress this wrong, I have called upon the Administration to extend the exemption to religious employers without regard for who they serve or who they employ. I have also cosponsored H.R.1179, the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, which allows employers to decline coverage for those specific items and services that are contrary to their religious beliefs.

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