Today, the House Judiciary Committee held a full committee hearing to investigate the Obama administration’s unprecedented overreach through the latest Obamacare mandate’s assault on religious liberty.
Asma Uddin, an attorney with The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, testified at the hearing on the administration’s insulting disregard for the right to religious freedom.
“As a Muslim-American woman and an academic, I have spent my career fighting for women’s and minority’s rights, and the fact that I must be here today to explain why our constitutional rights exist is extremely offensive to me personally,” Uddin stated.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is currently representing four religious organizations that do not qualify for the rule’s narrow religious exemption and will be forced to provide and pay for employee health insurance coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization – regardless of their religious and moral objections to such services.
The mandate places the organizations represented by the Becket Fund and countless others – including hospitals, schools, and social service groups – in an untenable situation: forced to either violate their deeply held beliefs or forego providing health insurance and pay costly annual fines for doing so.
“[T]he mandate imposes a substantial burden on our clients.” Uddin explained. “In fact, it’s so severe that our clients will be forced to stop providing health insurance altogether and pay penalties up to $620,000 per year for non-compliance.”
With limited funds diverted to the high annual fines that come with dropping health insurance coverage under Obamacare, the mandate could signal serious trouble for organizations’ necessary work in civil society.
“Without employer health plans, many religious institutions would find themselves at a serious competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis other employers,” explained Uddin in written testimony. “Some religious institutions could find that without a group health plan, they could not attract sufficient staff and would be forced to close their operations altogether.”
That could mean fewer organizations caring for the sick, feeding the poor, and educating the next generation.
Worse, the Obama administration has not backed down from forcing religious employers to violate their beliefs and has not compromised on the coercive mandate. In a February 10 press conference, the President promised to “accommodate” the consciences of non-exempted religious employers. But within hours of that press conference, the Obama administration filed the final rule – without change.
“The press conference was merely a smokescreen that sadly fooled much of the American public who were rightly concerned by the mandate,” Uddin remarked, while explaining that the promised “compromise” is an unworkable, non-solution.
Yet, the Obama administration would rather put the promises at a press conference above the final federal regulation. In its legal response two weeks ago to Belmont Abbey College’s lawsuit, one of the cases currently litigated by the Becket Fund, the Department of Justice asked federal courts to do just that.
“We were shocked to read that they asked the court to dismiss the case because of a “promise” to shift the costs to insurance companies at some point in the future,” Uddin explained at the hearing. “To add further insult to injury, last night, the Administration responded to our second case on behalf of Colorado Christian University, again failing to respond to any of our client’s legitimate constitutional claims, and instead asking for a dismissal based on their ‘promise.’”
“[D]espite these severe burdens on our clients’ constitutional rights, the government, in its response last night, continues to provide no compelling interest that justifies forcing monks and nuns to hand out abortion drugs,” Uddin continued.
Responding to false claims that opposition to the mandate’s violation of liberty is confined to men, Uddin stated:
“Women, too, seek the freedom to live in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs.
Religious freedom is a right enjoyed by everyone, and it is just as much in women’s interest to protect that right as it is in men’s.”
The violation of liberty evidenced in this particular mandate is a taste of the health care law’s broader attack on individual freedom. The coercive nature of the rule is just the tip of the Obamacare iceberg in terms of defining the law’s “essential benefits” package. To ensure protection of religious freedom and individual liberty for all Americans – female and male – Obamacare must be repealed.
For more on this issue, watch our video: Religious Liberty: Obamacare’s First Casualty.