Yesterday, on the eve of its religious-liberty-crushing mandate taking effect, President Obama’s Health and Human Services Department (HHS) made an outrageous claim:
The Obama administration will continue to work with all employers to give them the flexibility and resources they need to implement the health care law in a way that protects women’s health while making common-sense accommodations for values like religious liberty.
Religious liberty is a fundamental right guaranteed under the First Amendment of the Constitution, not a mere “value” whose worth is subject to devaluation by any given Administration’s policy. Regrettably, devaluation of this first principle is exactly what we’ve seen from the Obama Administration, which after a year of such lip service to religious liberty has held firmly to its original mandate despite widespread, intense, and ecumenical outcry against it.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’s latest promise rings hollow and adds insult to the grievous injury that HHS is already doing to Americans who believe that religious liberty is not something that stops when one leaves a house of worship.
The anti-conscience HHS mandate is now in effect.
What happens starting today?
Today signals the beginning of a season of impossible decisions for employers who, for reasons of conscience, have not been paying for abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, or sterilization for their employees. Employers are now required to offer these services for “free”—meaning the employers pick up the cost of including these services in their health insurance plans. At the renewal of their health plan years, the HHS mandate will force employers into an untenable choice: violate their deeply held beliefs or forfeit the provision of health insurance altogether and risk steep fines.
Who are these victims of Obamacare’s trampling on faith? Family business owners who are producing jobs and growing the economy, Catholic social organizations that provide invaluable services to their communities, and evangelical colleges and universities educating the next generation, to name just a few. The Obama Administration says that business owners’ rights to religious freedom shouldn’t cross into their everyday lives, claiming that “for-profit, secular employers generally do not engage in any exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment.”
If employers don’t comply, what happens to them?
If employers don’t change their plans, they will be hit with fines—up to $100 per employee per day. But if they stop providing health coverage, Obamacare’s double whammy means that employers with more than 50 employees could instead be hit with fines for that.
For many, the level of these fines would mean going out of business. Applying the $100 per employee per day fine to Hercules Industries, for example—the family-owned business with 265 employees that is challenging the mandate in Colorado—would mean a fine of $800,000 per month—almost $10 million per year.
If Hercules were to drop its health coverage, forcing its employees into government-run exchanges under Obamacare, it would face a fine on faith of approximately $2,000 per employee per year, for a total of $530,000 per year.
What about the Administration’s “safe harbor” promised to delay the mandate’s effects?
The Administration gave a very narrow exemption from the mandate to religious houses of worship serving their own members. Among the many employers who do not meet the Administration’s narrow religious exemption, some may be able to get a one-year reprieve from the HHS mandate under the Administration’s “temporary safe-harbor” provision. Non-profit religious employers are eligible for the safe harbor only if they meet the Administration’s four-part test.
Even then, the temporary safe harbor only delays the inevitable, merely giving religious employers an extra 12 months to silence their consciences and get in line with the government’s mandate. Many religious employers and all for-profit employers do not qualify for the safe harbor and are subject to the HHS mandate starting today.
Is anyone still challenging this?
This fight is far from over. Almost 60 organizations have joined more than 20 lawsuits against the HHS mandate, including both for-profit and non-profit employers.
The first legal decision came just last Friday when a judge in Colorado issued a preliminary injunction against the mandate. The mandate will not be enforced against family-owned Hercules Industries while it has a fair hearing on the issue in court.
Is this the last of Obamacare’s mandates?
This is only the beginning of the problems that Americans will continue to see as Obamacare’s mandatory “essential benefits” package takes shape. Obamacare gave enormous power to the HHS to craft the rules of the 2,700-page health care law, and we still don’t know very many details of how it will be implemented. Conveniently, many of Obamacare’s new rules and new taxes don’t hit Americans until well after the presidential election, in 2014.
The anti-conscience mandate is a warning sign for us all of how one-size-fits-all health care requirements will trample on religious liberty as well as individual liberty. Centralization of health care is simply incompatible with freedom—religious freedom or any type of individual freedom. The only way to restore our liberties is to repeal Obamacare.