Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Resolute on Liberty

Tony Perkins
Family Research Council

The House leadership and House appropriators yesterday released the "Continuing Resolution" (CR) to fund the government agencies through the next 6 months. The CR includes the dreaded sequester cuts which will reduce spending. However, the CR doesn't fix the assault on religious liberties imposed by the HHS mandate implementing Obamacare. Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) and Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), along with 12 female Republican Members, last week sent a letter urging House leaders to add conscience protections to the CR. FRC also sent a coalition letter with over 80 groups urging House leaders to protect religious freedoms. Today I held a news conference at the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) annual convention in Tennessee to discuss the need to add conscience protections to the CR. I was joined by Janet Parshall, radio host for Moody Radio, Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr., presiding bishop of the International Communion of Evangelical Churches, and Dr. Richard Land, President, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Rep. Black, Rep. Fleming and Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Nebr.) also introduced their legislation yesterday with 50 cosponsors titled, "The Health Care Conscience Rights Act" (H.R. 940). The bill would protect religious freedom in health insurance and provide conscience protections for pro-life health care workers such as nurses who object to participating in abortion. Despite conscience laws on the books, Obamacare contained no conscience protections to temper the HHS mandate, and other conscience laws have been violated. A case in point is Cathy DeCarlo, a New York nurse, who was forced to participate in an abortion against her conscience.

This new CR is "must pass" legislation since the President must sign such a bill before March 27 or the government will shut down. Unfortunately, House leadership decided not to add the Black, Fleming and Fortenberry conscience protections to the CR. The HHS mandate already is threatening serious fines for non-compliance for businesses like Hobby Lobby. It is ridiculous that the penalty for not providing employee insurance ($2,000 a year per employee) would be far greater than exorbitant fines ($100 per employee, per day) for refusing to provide abortion pills and contraception.

The mandate also goes into effect this August for religious charities, hospitals, and universities who believe their faith should inform their health care choices. Imagine that! In effect, the HHS mandate doesn't merely require employers to offer free abortion drugs and contraceptives in their insurance plans. It fundamentally creates a two-tier religious caste system whereby churches are religious enough for exemption, but people of faith choosing to exercise their beliefs in their everyday business lives or charity work for the public are not. Religious freedom is not limited to places of worship, or at least it hasn't been for over 200 years. The accounting gimmicks HHS proposed in February don't offer an exemption, and why not? The Administration clearly thinks religious entities, other than churches, should include controversial services in their health plans. It's clear the President and HHS Secretary Sebelius believe convictions of faith should be checked on the way out the church door. We are grateful for Members like Representatives Diane Black, John Fleming and Jeff Fortenberry who are keeping this issue at the forefront by proposing stand-alone legislation that protects conscience. But the reality is that a stand-alone bill will never pass the Senate and be signed by the President. The language has to be added to a "must pass" piece of legislation like the CR. We are not interested in just having a vote on legislation that addresses our concern, we want a resolution on this government assault on our First Freedom. The House leadership should reconsider the importance of religious freedom to all Americans as it debates the CR.