What Now for Religious Freedom?

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

A second term of President Obama will affect whole wide world on religious liberty. Richard Doerflinger previews some domestic options in an interview with the National Catholic Register:


Post-election, what are the prospects on Capitol Hill of passing legislation that strengthens conscience protections to remedy the problem?

The election left things largely as they were: We count the same number of votes in the new Senate as in the old — not in terms of party affiliation, but in terms of pro-life position.

Olympia Snowe [R-Maine], who regularly voted against our legislation, is gone. But the new Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., has almost always voted to support pro-life legislation.

The only time that a conscience measure for the mandate was considered in the Senate it got 48 votes, with very little time to explain the issues.

Getting to 50 or 51 votes in the Senate could happen, especially if you can attach legislation to a must-pass vehicle, where you have leverage to trade back and forth, to get policy riders approved. We are not giving up on that and will continue to pursue this agenda.

Would the president sign such a measure into law?

Perhaps if the alternative is to veto a bill he favors, like an entire appropriations bill. Then perhaps he would.

If the courts are continuing to bring injunctions against the mandate, the administration may not want to continue pursing 35 different lawsuits on this and will perhaps back down.

At this point, how might the House press for a legislative remedy to the mandate?

There is a continuing resolution that keeps the government funded until March. They don’t have to do the appropriations bill until then, but there are rumors that Congress and the White House — to avert the “fiscal cliff” — will have to do a deal on revenue and spending. Some would like the appropriations bill to be part of that [remedy]. Even before the end of this year, we may have a debate on this issue.

Right now, the House committee draft of the Labor/HHS appropriations bill has language like that of the Fortenberry-Blunt bill. I believe the House leadership will fight for that in negotiations with the Senate. Where that comes on the priorities list, we can’t say.

It is now becoming very clear that the Affordable Care Act is here to stay and that we really need relief. We will be urging Catholics to write to their congressional representatives in support of that provision — Section 537 of the Labor/HHS appropriations bill.

We see every reason to continue our efforts in both Congress and the courts and to continue to ask the administration to take a more flexible view of the conscience issues involved.

I am in the odd position of being hopeful about the courts here. In Supreme Court has found Obama administration policy on religious liberty absurd and given what the Department of Justice has been arguing in federal court lately, this judicial trend could continue. 

The Corner

The one and only.