The Obama administration is at it again. They are now using Obamacare to impose a secular vision on Americans who believe that they should not have their religious freedom taken away.
On January 20, 2012, the Obama administration affirmed a rule that would force Roman Catholic hospitals, charities, and universities to purchase health insurance for their employees that includes coverage for contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization, in violation of their religious principles. This is wrong.
My own view is clear. I stand with the Catholic Bishops and all religious organizations in their strenuous objection to this liberty- and conscience-stifling regulation. I am committed to overturning Obamacare root and branch. If I am elected President, on day one of my administration I will issue an executive order directing my Secretary of Health and Human Services to issue a waiver from its requirements to all 50 states. And on day one I will eliminate the Obama administration rule that compels religious institutions to violate the tenets of their own faith. Such rules don’t belong in the America that I believe in.
The America I believe in is governed by the U.S. Constitution and I will not hesitate to use the powers of the presidency to protect religious liberty.
Religious liberty is at the heart of the American experiment. As a nation founded in part by religious dissenters, we enshrined it as the first freedom in our Bill of Rights. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” is how the First Amendment begins. James Madison put the moral principle behind the amendment succinctly: "Conscience is the most sacred of all property." And accompanying the moral principle came the social principle that only religious liberty could ensure tranquility in a new land composed of men and women of differing faiths.
But, now, more than two centuries after the drafting of the Bill of Rights, religious liberty is facing the most serious assault in generations. And the assault is coming from liberalism itself. In the process of implementing Obamacare, the Obama administration is pressing forward with a rule that tramples on religious freedom, taking particular aim at Roman Catholics. The Obama administration is forcing religious institutions to choose between violating their conscience or dropping health care coverage for their employees, effectively destroying their ability to carry on their work.
Those of us who object have an irrefutable case. American courts have long held as a foundational principle the right of religious institutions to control their own affairs. It was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court as recently as January 11 in a case involving ministerial hiring. It is notable that in that case, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church v. EEOC, the Obama administration was also challenging the basic time-honored principle of ecclesiastical autonomy. But a unanimous Court rejected the Obama administration’s position, declaring it to be “extreme” and explaining that the suit was “hard to square with the text of the First Amendment itself, which gives special solicitude to the rights of religious organizations.”
Seemingly in line with this “special solicitude,” the Obama administration has put forward a “religious employer” exemption regarding contraception and sterilization insurance coverage. Unfortunately, the Obama administration lawyers narrowed its actual force almost to the vanishing point. It only applies to religious organizations engaged primarily in serving people of the same religion. But that is not what many religious institutions do; serving the broad public is the essence of their divine mission. Accordingly, they will be compelled to provide health coverage to which they object as a matter of conscience.
In an effort to mollify the Bishops, Health and Human Services has now given religious institutions an additional twelve months to comply. That twelve-month extension is a clumsy attempt to push this matter past this year’s presidential election. As long as the rule hovers in front of us, we must keep up the battle. In a polity that provides all manners of exemption on the basis of religious freedom, it is an appalling trespass on the First Amendment.
Liberals and conservatives have made common cause to defend the rights of religious minorities in the past. But somehow, today, when it comes to the agenda of the left-wing of the Democratic Party—those who brought us abortion on demand and who fight against the teaching of abstinence education in our children’s schools—their devotion to religious freedom goes out the window. They would force Catholics and others who have beliefs rooted in their faith to sacrifice the teachings of their faith to the mandate of federal bureaucrats.
It is a prerequisite to the preservation of our liberty that our government not dictate to religious institutions the principles by which they are to carry out their charitable and divine mission. Religious liberty and freedom of conscience flow from the common conviction that it is freedom not coercion that exalts the individual, just as it raises up the nation.
What the Obama administration has done is indefensible. But this is about even more than President Obama denying America’s Catholics their constitutionally protected rights. This is about the preservation of our freedom. We must come together to make sure that these egregious violations of our Constitution do not stand.
Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, is seeking the Republican nomination for President of the United States.