Life has kept me overly busy the last few months so I have not been blogging, but with the April 8 deadline to submit comments to Health and Human Services (HHS) on the their new amendments to the Contraception Mandate, I had to sit down and put pen to paper. I encourage all of you to comment at the government's website http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=CMS-2012-0031 . There are a number of good web sites that offer talking points or background on the issue, including the USCCB at http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/ and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty at http://www.becketfund.org/hhsannouncementcoverage. I actually forced myself to read the amendment and my post today is a copy of the comments I sent to HHS...
I have just read, and have grave concerns on the impact of the amendment to the proposed rule for “Coverage of Certain Preventative Services under the Affordable Care Act” on our basic civil liberty of religious freedom. The amendment appears to be little more than a tighter definition of religious organizations as “houses of worship” and it explicitly states its goal is to “not expand the universe” of exemptions on a rule that was already overly restrictive in its definition of religious organizations.
At its core, I see this rule as an attempt to redefine the constitutional right to Freedom of Religion. This right, which includes the Right to bear witness to one’s beliefs in the public square, is being recast into a much more restricted right to Freedom of Worship. Since our founding, religious institutions have played a significant role in the public square, from helping serve the poor to taking heroic stands on social issues such as the abolition of slavery or the Civil Rights movement. The HHS mandate on contraceptive services is forcing many of these faith based organizations, that are not explicitly “houses of worship” to decide whether they should continue witnessing their faith through service to the community or violate their conscience on critical issues of morality and faith. The proposed amendment does nothing to protect faith based charitable organizations such as schools, hospitals and charities from the contraception mandate.
Additionally, the mandate does nothing to address the plight of individuals working in private enterprise who might object to contraception and abortion based on religious grounds. With this rule, the government is effectively saying that if you want to operate a business, you must abandon your faith based convictions and facilitate actions which violate your conscience. The word facilitate is of specific significance here, because the mandate is not asking private individuals to accept or tolerate certain behaviors they find objectionale because they are operating in a secular workplace; it is compelling them by law, with penalties for non-compliance, to facilitate behaviors which violate their conscience as a person of faith.
Our laws allow a person to avoid military service as a conscientious objector based on either secular or religious convictions. If we can make participating in the defense of our country optional based on conscience, why can we not protect a business person’s conscience when it comes to facilitating a woman’s choice to use birth control birth control or abortificants? What has occurred in our legal system that suddenly allows the choice of one individual, in a very personal and private matter, to compel another individual to violate their conscience on the same issue? The answer is nothing. This rule is an extreme overreach of the federal government into a very personal aspect of its citizen’s lives. It is not the role of the government to establish laws which dictate private moral behavior. In doing so the government takes a step towards establishing a national religion, even if that religion is secular and morally relativistic.
The amendments to the HHS mandate for “Coverage of Certain Preventative Services under the Affordable Care Act” have done nothing to address the issues of religious freedom the original mandate created. If anything the restrictions are more oppressive in their explicit restriction of the exemption to “houses of worship”. Additionally, the mandate imposes a restriction on who can participate in private enterprise. By excluding conscience protection for business people, talented entrepreneurs are forced to decide between creating jobs or violating their faith. The HHS Mandate needs to be completely rewritten to include conscience protection for organizations and individuals of faith, wherever they might operate in the public square.