Yesterday, the House Oversight and Government Reform committee held a full committee hearing on the Obamacare anti-conscience mandate’s unprecedented violation of religious liberty, hearing testimony from leaders of faith-based organizations directly affected by the rule’s serious governmental overreach.
As early as next August, affected organizations will be forced to either violate their beliefs by paying for abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization procedures or forego providing health insurance and possibly risk their institutions’ future.
Despite attempts by some at the hearing to obscure the focus of the debate, panelists pointed out that religious employers affected by the mandate are simply asking for freedom from government coercion and relief from the mandate’s burden on religious liberty—not to restrict access to contraceptives.
As Allison Dabbs Garrett, senior vice president for academic affairs at Oklahoma Christian University and one of two women on the panel, explained:
This debate is not about whether women have the right to obtain these drugs. Rather, this debate is about whether those who believe that contraceptives or abortifacients violate their religious convictions must pay for them. There is a vast difference between the right to make a purchase for oneself and requiring someone else to pay for it.
Dr. Laura Champion, medical director and physician at Calvin College, concurred, stating:
This is not about politics, this is not about contraception, and this is not about depriving women of health care. Rather, this is personal. This is about my daily life as a physician, a Christian, and a Medical Services Director. Whether I will be able as a physician to practice medicine within my belief system. Whether Calvin College will be able to continue its historic tradition of living out the faith it teaches. A government that is of the people, by the people, and for the people, should not force the people to violate their consciences.
Many panelists commented on the mandate’s narrow religious exemption that effectively affords protection of religious freedom to only formal houses of worship. Samuel W. Oliver, president of East Texas Baptist University, said the Administration’s refusal to protect the conscience rights of many religious employers (such as hospitals, colleges, and social service groups) amounted to the government creating a “three-tiered caste system of religious organizations”:
Who gave the government the authority to create different classes of religious groups and assign each of them different rights? That is not the government’s job. The First Amendment is designed precisely to stop the government from this sort of picking and choosing.
Facing dire decisions about the integrity and future of their organizations, many panelists reaffirmed the seriousness of such “picking and choosing” by government bureaucrats.
As John Garvey, president of Catholic University of America, stated in his written testimony: “Jefferson said it was sinful and tyrannical ‘to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves.’ How much more evil to compel financial support for putting those opinions into practice.” Forced to provide for drugs and procedures in direct contradiction to the beliefs and teachings of the university “makes hypocrites of us all, in the most important lessons we teach.”
The anti-conscience mandate’s infringement on freedom has garnered widespread opposition and even motivated legal challenges to the rule. William K. Thierfelder is president of Belmont Abbey College, one of three institutions currently suing the government over the mandate’s violation of religious liberty. He testified at yesterday’s hearing on the implications of the mandate’s coercion for not only the future of religious liberty but individual freedom in general:
Our nation’s founders believed strongly in the important place of religious institutions in American society and the need for those institutions to remain independent of governmental control. Religious freedom was enshrined in the First Amendment, guaranteeing the right for freedom of belief and freedom of exercise. But now, religious institutions are being pushed out of the public sphere, our practices increasingly regulated by government policies.… When we lose the freedom to believe, we have lost all freedom.
Forcing employers—religious or not—to disregard their deeply held beliefs by subsidizing drugs they find morally objectionable is a profound affront to freedom. Policymakers should realize that faith-based organizations play a profound role in sustaining civil society and that their religious liberty, like the freedom of all Americans, must be protected. In addition to highlighting the grave threats to liberty posed by the coercive anti-conscience mandate, testimony at yesterday’s hearing reinforced the need for lawmakers to get rid of the rule—by getting rid of Obamacare.