The Corner

What We Learned Today in the Senate about the HHS Mandate

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was testifying in front of the Senate Finance Committee today to discuss the president’s 2014 budget. Utah senator Orrin Hatch, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, took the opportunity to ask her about the HHS mandate violating the religious freedom of voters and institutions who have faith-based opposition to birth control, abortifacients, and sterilization service.

Hatch asked Sebelius if HHS had any analysis to back up the administration’s claim that the mandate is not an assault on constitutional or statutory religious-liberty protections. Short answer? Nope. She didn’t even ask the administration’s own Department of Justice for one. Nor did she reply to a letter Hatch sent her July and one 27 senators sent in October asking about it.

Hatch asked: “I wrote you last July that your proposed contraceptive mandate would be ‘an affront to the natural rights to life, religious liberty and personal conscience.’  I note for the record that your response to my letter completely ignored this issue.  Last October, 27 Senators joined me in writing you again, asking for any analysis requested or obtained by HHS regarding these religious liberty issues.  The response from your department completely ignored that request. There were 27 of us who asked for it. The President’s Chief of Staff and Press Secretary have claimed that this mandate is consistent with the First Amendment, and the final rule you issued last Friday states that it is consistent with the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was the bill that I brought to the Congress. Let me just ask you again, did HHS conduct or request any analysis of the constitutional or statutory religious freedom issues?”

Sebelius responded: “Well we certainly had our legal department look at a whole host of legal issues.”

Hatch asked: “Did you ask the Justice Department?”

Sebelius responded: “I did not. No sir.”

The secretary also admitted that she did not consult with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops before she stood with the president Friday with a supposed “accommodation.” That “accommodation” was unsatisfactory, of course … as is the new precedent that religious belief is something the federal government exists to accommodate rather than protect in America! 

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