With religious liberty issues continuing to rise to the surface of our national dialogue, the Health & Human Services (HHS) Mandate has remained a top priority for the Congressional Prayer Caucus, as well as the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation. This Mandate represents a major blow for religious freedom and our core First Amendment rights. The Founding Fathers sacrificed their livelihoods to establish a Republic where the government’s primary role was to protect the rights of its citizens, not disregard and undermine them for force people into situations that violated their conscious. The HHS Mandate is just one more example of how our freedoms are being systematically eroded.
The firestorm of opposition generated by thousands of concerned voices and dozens of lawsuits, has forced the current Administration to weigh in. Although the response has not been favorable for those holding to their convictions, we must not retreat or yield on such a vital principle that reflects our Judeo-Christian values. This ill-conceived and politically-charged attempt to redefine our First Amendment freedoms cannot not be overlooked. The Mandate debases the Constitution and it is our collective responsibility to hold our elected leaders accountable.
Many of you may already be familiar with the ongoing courtroom battle taking place with Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., a Christian-owned and operated corporation. The faith-based organization is challenging the Obamacare mandate that requires employers to provide contraceptive care and abortion-inducing drugs to their employees. Hobby Lobby considers these requirements a direct violation of their religious values as a matter of moral conscious. On February 19th, 11 United States Senators and Congressmen filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit supporting Hobby Lobby.
Congressman and Prayer Caucus Founder, Randy Forbes, notes, “Like you, I believe the HHS mandate violates religious freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution. On February 1, 2013, in response to the newly-proposed changes to the HHS mandate, I issued a statement explaining that the Administration continues to fail to recognize that a core intent of the First Amendment was to provide protections to individuals, including private business owners who wish to operate in accordance with their faith.”
Although there has been some discussion about exemptions for religious organizations, such exemptions only apply to a very narrow group of people and organizations. Congressman Forbes further comments, “The mandate offered a very limited ‘religious employer exemption’ that essentially exempted only churches. As a result, the mandate would force many religious hospitals, charities, and universities to decide between providing health care plans that cover services that directly violate their religious beliefs, or not providing health insurance to employees or students at all. After HHS issued the mandate, the Department received over 200,000 public comments on the issue; however, in January of 2012 HHS announced that it would not reverse the mandate or expand the exemption to protect religious freedom.”
Please understand, your voice matters! In the 112th Congress, Members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus were proud sponsors of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R. 1179), which would amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act–the President’s health care law– to protect the conscience rights and religious beliefs of healthcare insurers, providers and purchasers. This legislation would ensure that the healthcare law does not discriminate against healthcare entities and providers who have legitimate and Constitutionally-protected objections.
In addition, earlier this month, Congressman Forbes joined 153 Members of Congress in sending a letter to HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, asking that the mandate be suspended until they are certain all religious freedoms are appropriately addressed and protected.
James Madison, our nation’s fourth President and the “Father of the Constitution,” wrote the following, “The religion of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.”1 In a proposed amendment to the Constitution–offered in a speech to the House of Representatives–Madison further stated, “The civil rights of none, shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext infringed.”2
Pray and take action! H.R. 1179 has not been reintroduced in the 113th Congress. Let your Representative know you want this protection in place. Phone calls and letters really do make a significant difference, because politicians understand for every citizen who takes the time to respond, that individual represents thousands of other constituents who probably feel the same way.
Let’s not allow ourselves to become discouraged, grow weary in well doing or cease fighting for these important issues. The opposition is not giving up, and nor can we. The words of the Apostle Paul will help strengthen our resolve, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). We are thankful for your continued support, prayers and your willingness to soldier on for the cause of freedom.
1Spalding, M. (2009). We still hold these truths: Rediscovering our principles, reclaiming our future. Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute.
Complete Letter From Congressman Forbes,
On August 1, 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a mandate requiring that employee health plans cover contraceptives, sterilization, and drugs that can cause abortions, at no cost to the patient. HHS issued the list of mandated services, which included Plan B and Ella, both of which can destroy human embryos. The mandate offered a very limited “religious employer exemption” that essentially exempted only churches. As a result, the mandate would force many religious hospitals, charities, and universities to decide between providing health care plans that cover services that directly violate their religious beliefs, or not providing health insurance to employees or students at all. After HHS issued the mandate, the Department received over 200,000 public comments on the issue; however, in January of 2012 HHS announced that it would not reverse the mandate or expand the exemption to protect religious freedom. HHS instead announced that it would provide a year-long “safe harbor” period, temporarily delaying the mandate’s application to non-exempt objecting religious organizations and providing no real resolution for people who oppose the mandate because of deeply held religious beliefs.
After a firestorm of opposition, President Obama in February of 2012 issued the final rule, retaining the original narrow “religious employer exemption” that only exempted churches. At the same time, President Obama proposed an idea for an “accommodation” for non-exempt religious organizations, to prevent them from directly covering the services. He proposed forcing the insurance companies to cover the services instead. The President’s new arrangement was really more of an accounting gimmick, as it still ultimately required contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs to be provided to all employees of nonexempt religious institutions at no cost. In March of 2012, the Administration announced a 90-day comment period for suggestions on ways to implement its proposed “accommodation.”
On February 1, 2013, HHS issued a proposed rule that would make two principal changes to the mandate. It would 1) slightly expand the original “religious employer exemption” to include select other religious organizations that fall directly under the umbrella of a house of worship; and would 2) provide the “accommodation” for religious institutions of higher education and certain non-exempt religious organizations that object to the mandate. Despite the changes, the exemption for religious employers is still narrow, and the newly proposed “accommodation” will provide no relief to private business owners.
Like you, I believe the HHS mandate violates religious freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution. On February 1, 2013, in response to the newly-proposed changes to the HHS mandate, I issued a statement explaining that the Administration continues to fail to recognize that a core intent of the First Amendment was to provide protections to individuals, including private business owners who wish to operate in accordance with their faith.
In the 112th Congress, I was a proud cosponsor of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R. 1179), which would amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the President’s health care law, to protect the conscience rights and religious beliefs of healthcare insurers, providers and purchasers. The legislation would ensure that the healthcare law does not discriminate against healthcare entities and providers who have religious or conscience objections to providing certain items and services. The bill has not been reintroduced in the 113th Congress. In addition, on February 6, 2012 I joined 153 of my colleagues in sending a letter to HHS Secretary Sebelius asking that the mandate be suspended until we can be certain that the constitutionally protected religious freedoms of Americans are protected.
I believe health insurance companies, hospitals and other health care providers have a right to choose not to perform services or provide items that are contrary to their religious beliefs. I remain committed to protecting religious freedom in our country, and will continue monitoring this issue very closely.
J. RANDY FORBES
Member of Congress