Taking a Stand for Religious Liberty during the Fortnight for Freedom

Religious liberty is under attack today from President Obama and his administration.  Look no further than the Obamacare HHS mandate.  Tragically, that is just one among several egregious assaults on religious liberty in America.  Yet, in this time of adversity, Americans have an opportunity to unite in defense of our first and most fundamental freedom both during the Fortnight for Freedom and by supporting the Health Care Conscience Rights Act offered by Reps. Diane Black (R–TN), Jeff Fortenberry (R–NE), and John Fleming (R–LA).

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) website explains why they have called for the Fortnight for Freedom, a two-week period of prayer and action.”  Their goal is “to address many current challenges to religious liberty, including the August 1, 2013 deadline for religious organizations to comply with the HHS mandate [and] Supreme Court rulings that could attempt to redefine marriage in June.”

The HHS mandate requires religious employers to provide, through their employee benefits plans, procedures and pharmaceuticals that many religious employers believe are at odds with their religion.  This includes abortion inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization.  The HHS mandate carves out an extremely narrow definition of religion.  This allows the government to decide which religious organizations are “religious enough” to be granted an exemption from the HHS mandate. The USCCB explains “Only those organizations that hire their own, serve their own, and exist primarily to inculcate their own doctrine qualify for this exemption.”

This assault on religious liberty and practice is being confronted on both legal and legislative fronts.

For example, consider the sheer number of lawsuits that have been filed in objection to the HHS mandate.  Indeed, 61 cases and over 200 plaintiffs representing hospitals, universities, businesses, schools, and people, have been filed to affirm the freedom of religion guaranteed in the Constitution.

In March, Representatives Diane Black (R–TN), Jeff Fortenberry (R–NE), and John Fleming (R–LA) introduced the Healthcare Conscience Rights Act, which seeks to protect the constitutional freedom of individuals and employers to live and act in accordance with their deeply held beliefs.

But legal challenges and legislation are just one important part of a broader, concerted effort Americans are making against this excessive government encroachment on religious practice.  Heritage has explained:

When government oversteps its bounds and begins to assume more authority, it weakens other important social institutions, including those, like the family and religious congregations, that are particularly capable of encouraging moral virtue among citizens.  Big-government programs and policies also tend to confuse the lines between citizen responsibility and government responsibility. As a result, they erode our understanding of the ethical obligations we have to one another-especially in regard to issues such as poverty and economic justice-and encourage us to assume and to expect that government will provide for our neighbors’ needs.

The Obama administration has not blurred the line; they have crossed the line.

Heritage’s Sarah Torre has noted:

After more than a year of public outrage, over 50 lawsuits against the anti-conscience mandate, and a federal judge’s demand that HHS fix its coercive mandate, the Administration published a “notice of proposed rulemaking” (NPRM) on February 6. That proposed rule neither changes the underlying mandate finalized in law and currently in effect nor provides any workable or adequate solutions to the mandate’s trampling on religious liberty.

As Alliance Defending Freedom wrote in a public comment on Monday on behalf of over 20 Catholic colleges, “No other federal rule has so narrowly and discriminatorily defined what it means to exercise religious conscience, and no regulation has ever so directly violated plain statutory and constitutional religious freedoms. The [administration’s “notice of proposed rulemaking] does nothing to change that fact.”

The public outrage will persist until this injustice is rectified, and rightfully so.  More importantly, though, that outrage is translating into action.  As Edmund Burke once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  That’s why the Fortnight for Freedom and the Health Care Conscience Rights Act are so important. 

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