The Supreme Court will hand down its verdict on Obamacare this week, making it a timely occasion for Americans to show their support for religious freedom—only one of many freedoms steamrolled by the health care law.
This spring, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius acknowledged she did not even enlist the legal advice of the Department of Justice on whether it is constitutional to force religious employers to provide coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization against their moral or religious beliefs. She admitted in congressional testimony that she neglected to obtain an adequate legal analysis of the HHS anti-conscience mandate before promulgating the Obamacare rule that tramples on religious liberty.
That disrespect for constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom has led Americans to participate in the Fortnight for Freedom, a nationwide demonstration. Launched June 21, the Fortnight for Freedom runs through July 4—a two-week opportunity for citizens to celebrate our rich heritage of religious liberty and call for greater defense of this precious right.
Often called the “first freedom,” religious liberty is the cornerstone of American freedoms. The ability to freely worship and act in accordance with a particular faith without fear of government reprisal is essential to civil society.
As Heritage’s Jennifer Marshall has explained:
Far from privatizing religion, the American model of religious liberty assumes that religious believers and institutions will take active roles in society…In fact, the American Founders considered religious engagement in shaping the public morality essential to ordered liberty and the success of their experiment in self government.
That right includes the ability to practice one’s faith even outside the four walls of a church. The Constitution does not merely protect the freedom to worship in private and on certain days of the week. It is a guarantee that individuals can allow their faith to inform and motivate their lives and work.
That is why Secretary Sebelius’s disregard for the Constitution’s religious freedom protections is so particularly egregious.
Obamacare’s anti-conscience mandate has a narrow religious exemption that applies only to formal houses of worship. Countless other religious employers, like Catholic schools, hospitals, and crisis pregnancy centers are forced to provide coverage for the mandated services despite moral or religious objections—simply because they step outside the four walls of a church to serve others.
Insinuating that faith should remain behind closed doors, not influencing or inspiring care for others, the government’s narrow view of religion has created what some have called a “religious caste system.” Only those considered “religious enough” by government bureaucrats are awarded religious freedom under the mandate.
The HHS mandate’s narrow view of religion is only one of many examples of the increasing erosion of religious liberty. For example:
- State laws instituting civil unions or redefining marriage have forced faith-based adoption and foster care services in Illinois, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia to close their doors rather than violate their beliefs about placing children in homes with a married mother and father.
- Last fall, HHS bureaucrats refused to renew a grant for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to partner with law enforcement to help victims of human trafficking, simply because the group would not violate its beliefs by referring for abortions.
Religious liberty conflicts are often early warning signs for threats to general freedoms. The anti-conscience mandate, for instance, is only the first of many rules that will run afoul of freedom as Obamacare is fully implemented. Rescinding the mandate would protect religious freedom in this instance specifically, but only repealing Obamacare can adequately protect religious and other liberties more generally and make way for health care reform that meets patients’ needs, consistent with their convictions. If the Supreme Court does not strike down the entire health care law this week, Congress should move to repeal what remains.
Protecting Americans’ right to live out their faith in the public square and for organizations to hire and serve others in accordance with their deeply held beliefs is essential to sustaining robust religious freedom. That kind of respect requires leaders who recognize constitutional limits on government power.
Despite the Obama Administration’s recent neglect of those limits, the freedoms enshrined in our founding document will be hard to ignore on July 4. As the Fortnight for Freedom concludes, church bells across the country will ring simultaneously at noon (Eastern time), declaring loudly: Let Religious Freedom Ring.