On June 30, 2014, the Supreme Court determined that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) protected closely held companies from being forced to provide health-care products or services that violate their employers’ religious beliefs. However, this victory for religious freedom could prove fleeting. This week, the Senate will consider legislation introduced by Democrats to eviscerate the RFRA — legislation they have long supported.
The Supreme Court ruled that the Obamacare mandate for contraceptives issued by the Department of Health and Human Services in 2012 violates RFRA because it is not the least restrictive means to provide such products. In other words, the government has other, less intrusive options to advance this mandate. Rather than illegally infringing on the religious liberty of these business owners, the court noted, the government could pursue existing, less restrictive alternatives to meet its policy objectives. To be clear, this narrow ruling applies only to certain for-profit corporations and the Obamacare contraceptive mandate — not other health-care services, such as blood transfusions. More than 50 nonprofit organizations (including the Little Sisters of the Poor) that so often aid the neediest among us continue to seek legal relief from Obamacare’s requirements.
The RFRA was passed in 1993, unanimously in the House of Representatives and by a vote of 97–3 in the Senate, before President Clinton signed it into law. The law states the government cannot substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion. Among those voting for RFRA were several Senate Democrats who now support new legislation called the “Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act.” With this bill, Democrats are now seeking to tear down the very structures they helped build to protect the free exercise of religion.
The legislation the Senate will consider breaks from several decades’ worth of work to pass bipartisan laws that protect religious rights, including RFRA. Despite having the ability to provide alternative means for access to contraceptives, this legislation cruelly targets people of faith. And the potential scope of this targeting is breathtaking. For example, the language of this bill would override other provisions of existing law and would eliminate conscience protections applicable to any health-care item or service. If this bill became law, it is not impossible that individuals could be forced to pay for abortions should the government decide it is necessary — despite a long-held bipartisan congressional prohibition dating back to the 1970s. Barely two decades after RFRA’s passage with the overwhelming support of both parties, we are now witnessing implacable hostility toward the individuals and groups RFRA protects.
What has changed in the two decades since nearly all elected officials agreed to protect religious freedom? The answer rests in the failed leadership of Democrats over the past five and a half years. With no record of accomplishment to run on, they continue to try to stoke the flames of a culture war and attack those whose beliefs differ from their own. As we approach the one-year mark since Obamacare’s disastrous rollout began, the problems that need to be addressed are numerous. Yet the Senate majority has opted to ignore those issues in order to perpetuate a mythical Republican “war on women.” Obamacare is the real problem. Women across America say the law has increased their costs, made it harder for them to see their doctors, and decreased their paychecks.
As I wrote two years ago, “Our federal government should not force religious groups to betray their fundamental beliefs.” Such a basic proposition remains true today notwithstanding how individuals and families have structured their businesses. People with deeply held beliefs do not surrender their constitutional rights when they start a business or operate a soup kitchen. And those who do not share those beliefs need not lose the services they desire. As a dishonest culture war is being waged, Republicans will continue to speak up for religious freedom and for women who have been hurt by the president’s health-care law.
— Jerry Moran represents Kansas in the U.S. Senate.