May 2, 2012

Update in the Battle for Religious Freedom and Conscience Rights

Melanie Palazzo
Congressional Action Program Director
Federal Relations Department

The House of Representatives Education and Workforce Committee held a hearing Thursday, April 26, 2012, where Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified about her department’s budget. HHS is the department in the executive branch which issued the regulation mandating that nearly all employers provide contraceptives (including abortion-inducing drugs) to their employees free of charge. Despite a large public outcry on this direct threat to conscience protections and religious freedom, the Obama administration has refused to exempt religious employers (other than houses of worship) from this mandate.

However, this past Thursday, members of the House Education and Workforce Committee grilled Secretary Sebelius about the constitutionality of the HHS mandate, asking why HHS couldn’t exempt all religious employers from providing drugs to their employees in violation of the employer’s religious or conscientious objections. You can watch the interchange between Congressman Gowdy (SC) and Congresswoman Roby (AL) with Secretary Sebelius on this issue. Secretary Sebelius continued to say that employers would have the option to not pay for these drugs but then admitted that the employer’s insurance company would be forced to cover these drugs or their plan would not be allowed in the market. It is unclear how the insurance company would pay for these drugs.

We thank the members of Congress on the Education and Workforce Committee for continuing to fight against this mandate, which we believe threatens religious freedom and the rights of conscience.

Congressman Fortenberry (NE) has introduced H.R. 1179 to protect against this new mandate. If Congress passes H.R. 1179, an employer would once again be able to offer to his or her employees “a health plan to decline coverage of specific items and services that are contrary to the religious beliefs of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan or the purchaser or beneficiary (in the case of individual coverage) without penalty.” Senator Roy Blunt (MO) has introduced companion legislation in the Senate, S. 1467, and Senator Marco Rubio (FL) has introduced a similar bill, S. 2043.

Action Requested

Please call your two U.S. senators and your U.S. representative and urge them to support the Rights of Conscience acts. You can reach the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 or use HSLDA’s Legislative Toolbox to enter your ZIP code and find your representatives’ phone numbers.

Your message can be as simple as the following:

“Please cosponsor and vote for H.R. 1179 or S. 1467 and S. 2043, which will overturn President Obama’s contraceptives mandate requiring religious employers to violate their conscience and religious beliefs. To protect the sanctity of the First Amendment, and the right of conscience upon which our nation was founded, you must act to preserve the freedom of religious employers to follow the dictates of their conscience.”

 Other Resources

HSLDA: “Update on Battle to Protect Religious Freedom and Right of Conscience”

HSLDA Update: “Obama Administration Disregards Freedom of Religion & Right of Conscience”

Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance: “Obama Admin: No Religious Accommodation on Birth Control Mandate”

HSLDA: “Comment Period on Conscience Regulations Ends September 30”

HSLDA: S. 1467—Respect for Rights of Conscience Act of 2011

Heritage: “Many Faiths Unite in Opposition to Obama Attack on Religious Liberty”

Cato Institute: The Real Trouble with the Birth-Control Mandate

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: “Bishops Renew Call to Legislative Action on Religious Liberty”

Letter from Senator Portman (OH): Portman To Holder: Stop The Unlawful HHS Violation Of Religious Liberty