Religious Freedom in the Senate

by Ramesh Ponnuru

The administration, as Corner readers are well aware, has decided to require religious institutions that offer insurance to cover contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients, whether or not they object to covering them. Churches would be exempt but not, for example, Catholic universities or hospitals. Earlier today Kathryn noted that Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) is introducing legislation, which he calls the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, responding to the administration’s move. Good for the senator: Although the administration’s policy may well be a violation of the existing Religious Freedom Restoration Act, additional legal and political backing for religious freedom would be helpful. Senator Rubio is also one of 24 co-sponsors of a bill on this subject by Senator Roy Blunt (R., Mo.), S. 1467 (“Respect for Rights of Conscience Act”). The Blunt bill was produced in anticipation of the administration’s decision and with input from many of the groups fighting for conscience protection.  Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R., Neb.) has a companion bill in the House.

From glancing at the texts, the earlier bill looks somewhat broader: It covers moral as well as religious objections, it has more specific protections for medical providers, and it doesn’t limit protections to the specific cases of abortion and contraception. It might make sense to merge these bills or in some other way work out a joint strategy for advancing the cause that the senators share.

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