August 1 2012

HHS Mandate Goes into Effect Today: A Blow to Religious Liberty

Charlotte Hays

“Are you better off than you were four years ago?” Ronald Reagan famously asked voters in 1980. Sure, Mitt Romney might well ask the same question. But here’s another question, an even more important one, Mr. Romney might consider posing, “Are you as free now as you were four years ago?”

As of today, August 1, we are less free than we used to be. Today is the day that the HHS mandate requiring religious employers to violate their consciences goes into effect. National Review correctly calls today day “a dark one for religious freedom:”

This is not a dispute about contraception or abortion, but about our constitutional order: All Americans, regardless of whether they share those objections, should protest the Obama administration’s willful assault on religious liberty….

In the absence of compelling reasons, the government should not force any person to act against his sincerely held religious beliefs. The American tradition of religious liberty has long reflected this principle, and it is embodied in the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. The HHS mandate violates this principle.

The Obama administration’s narrow definition of what constitutes a religious employer—and is therefore exempt—excludes hospitals, colleges, and other employers that are part of the social mission of churches. The federal government has never before usurped the power to define religious activity, and it has not heretofore ordered citizens to violate their religious principals or their consciences. This is something new in American life. (Also, don't miss IWF's excellent graphic on what the mandate means practically.)

The HHS mandate isn’t the only assault on our freedom that is making news today. Think of the Chick-fil-A, the fast food chain that is under attack because Dan Cathy, president of Chick-fil-A, has said publicly that he believes in the biblical concept of marriage.

You have every right to boycott Chick-fil-A if you disagree, and you should go for it. Several politicians, however, have said that they will use their political power to prevent the company from doing business in their communities. This is something else. This is using government to threaten Mr. Cathy’s religious liberty and freedom of conscience. He has, or used to have in the United States, a right to believe as he chooses.

An opinion piece written by an insurance executive for Tampa Bay Online ties the assault on Chick-fil-A and the HHS mandate together and makes the point that public officials aren’t threatening to prevent Mr. Cathy from doing business because of anything he has done—e.g., illegal hiring practices or any kind of discrimination—but purely because of his beliefs. The piece concludes:

This is the home of the brave and the land of the free. Are you free to believe what you choose? Our First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, but as you can see, the government is forcing, or trying to, other beliefs on us.

How long will we stand idle? Pay attention. Your freedom is slipping away.

Whatever you believe about the institution of marriage, Dan Cathy has a constitutional right to believe what he believes.

Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray, who calls Chick-fil-A  “hate chicken” (you’d think he had more on his plate these days), opposes expansion of the chain. But, at least for now, there is a Chick-fil-A food truck that parks on M Street NW. I intend to stop by and eat some of their delicious chicken salad as a small gesture of solidarity for freedom.

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