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Free contraception mandate violates religious, economic liberties

Posted: February 24, 2012 - 1:05am

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — President Obama’s mandate and so-called compromise violate religious liberty and the conscience rights of millions of Americans.

First, the Department of Health and Human Services issued its mandate requiring religious institutions, such as religious schools and hospitals, to include abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception in their insurance policies for employees. That is a mandate that violates the deeply held religious beliefs of many.

Rightly so, an uproar of massive, well-deserved criticism ensued. The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called the mandate “egregiously unfair” and “un-American.” The head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission described the mandate as “bad news” for freedom of conscience and religion.

The criticism deepened and Mr. Obama sought to right a sinking ship by issuing what he called an “accommodation.”

This deceptive compromise requires insurance companies to provide employees of the religious organizations that object with contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs free of charge. That’s nothing more than a ruse, a shell game, an accounting trick.

To cover costs, insurance companies would boost premiums, forcing religious groups — and the religious employees — to pay more for services that they find morally offensive. The compromise changes nothing — it still places the federal government at the helm of the religious views of faith-based institutions.

Most who opposed the mandate have rejected this “accommodation” — including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which labeled the offer “unacceptable.” We heard from nearly 70,000 Americans in just a few days urging reversal of this troubling measure.

The fact is the mandate and the “compromise” are not about health care. They represent a dangerous and unconstitutional power play by the federal government. It’s the ultimate in government intrusion, representing a significant threat to religious organizations.

We’ve been advocating against this government interference since last summer when we warned the HHS that the mandate would threaten the very existence of religious organizations, like the Dominican Sisters of the Congregation of St. Cecilia in Nashville, which has been educating young people and caring for the infirmed since its founding in 1860.

In our letter to the HHS, we warned: “In their 151-year history, the Nashville Dominicans have, with the help of God, survived a Civil War on their doorstep, deadly epidemics, devastating floods, economic depression and tumultuous social upheaval. Today, however, they face a new, more insidious threat — their own government. ... What war and disease could not do to the Congregation, the government of the United States will do. It will shut them down.”

The federal government is truly overstepping its constitutional authority. It has no business getting involved in this matter.

The Obama administration is ignoring the fundamental principles on which this nation was built. Thomas Jefferson wrote that “no provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprise of civil authority.” James Madison held that conscience is “the most sacred of all property.”

In remarks before the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this month, the president preached about the importance of religious faith. “We can’t leave our values at the door,” he said. “If we leave our values at the door, we abandon much of the moral glue that has held our nation together for centuries ...”

The problem is that Obama’s mandate and subsequent compromise do just that — demand that millions of Americans leave their values at the door.

Americans expect and deserve to enjoy the protections afforded to them under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. That is exactly why millions of Americans will reject this compromise. There can be no compromise with one of our most cherished freedoms — the free exercise of religion.

• Sekulow is chief counsel of the American Center for Law & Justice.

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