If the federal government can succeed in forcing people to violate their faith, it will have the power to force anyone to do anything.
It is therefore sad but not surprising that Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius took to USA Today this week to spin rather than explain her boss’s decision to force people and entities all over the country to fund abortifacients, contraception, and sterilization against their consciences.
Secretary Sebelius makes her case to the American people by misrepresenting the facts in what can only be described as deception by omission. She tells the American people that the president’s mandate contains an exemption for “religious organizations that primarily employ people of their own faith.”
This is simply false, and it goes to the heart of Sebelius’s sales pitch that her mandate is somehow broadly accommodating to religion when its exemption, in fact, covers almost no one.
The mandate explicitly does not exempt groups merely if they primarily hire members of their own faith. It forces those groups to violate their beliefs, unless they also primarily serve persons of their own faith. So a Christian hospital would have to turn aside Jews and Muslims at the door to be “religious enough” under the president’s aggressively secular policy.
But that’s not the end of the Sebelius smokescreen. Her mandate refuses to exempt even this hypothetical “Bad Samaritan Hospital,” unless it additionally is a church, a religious order, or an integrated activity of the same. Thus HHS considers it not-religious-enough for a group of people to form an association around their religious beliefs if that group is not formally acting as a church. And religions that aren’t organized into churches or religious orders don’t have a prayer under this administration’s emaciated view of religion.
Sebelius’s misrepresentation does not end there. Under the HHS mandate, “Bad Samaritan Hospital of the First Apostle Church of Kalamazoo” would still not qualify as a “religious entity” because it does not have “the” purpose of inculcating its religious beliefs. It has the purpose of curing the sick. So, according to the administration, the only thing that counts as a religious activity is explicit evangelization. Religious believers who get together to serve the community only delude themselves into thinking they are doing something religious. Our secular overlords know better.
Sebelius goes on to claim that “our rule has no effect on the longstanding conscience clause protections,” when in fact her bureaucrat-enacted mandate is a blatant violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed by President Clinton. Under RFRA, the federal government is prohibited from substantially burdening anyone’s religious belief unless they have a compelling interest and no less burdensome option. The mandate has an obvious alternative: convince Congress to fund free abortifacients and contraception directly instead of forcing employers to pay for it. Since the administration could never pass such a measure democratically, it has chosen to violate the most important conscience protection in statutory law today.
Sebelius concludes by promising that the mandate will not affect longstanding laws that protect doctors from prescribing contraception. But Sebelius is contradicting herself. One year ago she rescinded President Bush’s regulations to enforce those same laws because she said the regulations might protect a doctor from being forced to provide contraception. Sebelius was worried such regulations could “negatively impact patient access to contraception.” In that rescission, and a few days ago, she declared that even where a “contraceptive” device kills a human embryo before implantation, it doesn’t count as “abortion” under conscience laws. Thus Sebelius has rescinded and minimized the very kinds of protections she claims her new mandate respects.
The HHS mandate contains the tiniest definition of religion in the history of federal law. It is consistent with the president’s attempts to pressure-shrink religion within many aspects of his administration, such as in a recent Supreme Court case where he unsuccessfully argued that the government can interfere with the hiring of religious teachers because education is essentially a secular activity. The Court didn’t buy that, and no one should buy what Sebelius is selling either. This radical agenda seeks to take religious-freedom protections away from believers if they dare to step outside their church walls, and it is already encroaching on their freedom inside.
The Left’s siege on churches has begun. It’s time for a sortie.
— Alan Sears, a former federal prosecutor who held various posts in the departments of Justice and Interior during the Reagan administration, is president and CEO of the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal alliance employing a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.