Defending Religious Liberty by Any Means Possible

From National Review OnlineBy Kathryn Jean Lopez, July 27, 2012 At his weekly press briefing on Thursday, John Boehner was asked about the Department of Health and Human Services contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drug mandate that goes into effect August 1. “We’re continuing to work with those groups around the country who believe that their religious liberties are being infringed to try to come to a resolution of this issue,” he said. “Resolving these issues can sometimes best be done other than through legislative avenues. So we’re continuing to work with them on the best way forward.”

What does that mean? Bearing in mind that he’s been concerned about abortion and conscience rights since before the president’s health-care plan was even on paper, I think it means exactly what he said.

The fact of the matter is that the White House believes that curtailing religious liberty is appropriate when it comes to reproductive matters, that even abortion is “health care.” (See the president’s remarks this week connecting his position on federal funding for Planned Parenthood to his daughters’ health care.) The fact of the matter is that in a case in Denver this week, this president’s Department of Justice argued that a business owner surrenders his religious-liberty rights when he enters into business. The fact of the matter is, the Senate held a vote already on the conscience-rights-protection bill that exists in the House — and given the prevailing “war on women” narrative, members of the House aren’t exactly knocking down the speaker’s door to hold a vote on the same legislation. The fact of the matter is: We need a new president if we want to enjoy religious liberty, as we have known it. We need a new president if we want to undo the unsustainable, revolutionary law that has introduced whole new levels of uncertainty into the lives of Americans in the name of “health care.”

The sponsor of the conscience-rights legislation in the House, Nebraska congressman Jeff Fortenberry, a Catholic (who graduated from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, which is suing HHS, and Georgetown, which has played a — not always helpful — role in the public conversation about the mandate) embarked on an educating campaign long before the HHS contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drug mandate was introduced. Lutheran Diane Black and Democrat Dan Lipinski are among his 224 co-sponsors. There is currently conscience-protection language in the appropriations bill that includes the Department of Health and Human Services. But it remains unclear to me how Americans’ religious-liberty rights can be fully protected without a new president who understands them as we always have here. This isn’t a partisan issue — we had a consensus on protecting conscience rights before Barack Obama asserted a mandate he doesn’t have the right to assert, but that Americans are subject to. Mitt Romney demonstrated a firm grasp on the concept when he was running for president in 2008, and he has been adamant about his opposition to the HHS mandate. If voters put a president in office who respects religious liberty, returns the votes to the House, and sends more to the Senate, Speaker Boehner will have a much clearer way to get this and so much else accomplished.

And I fear that if John Boehner were to take the public position that this piece seems to want him to — that he will shut down the government a month before the election over the HHS mandate — the narrative for the entire fall will be: Mad men Republicans (see the New York Times characterization of the speaker), willing to shut down government to keep women from contraception. Of course, that would be nothing but an extension of their desperate election-year ploy to win back the women they lost in the midterm elections. But in a season of intense politics, on an issue where there remains serious misunderstanding, the truth is likely to be a casualty here.

In response to any suggestion that the Speaker was walking back his insistence that the HHS mandate is unjust and must be reversed, an aide to the Speaker tells National Review Online: “The Speaker believes the administration’s mandate is an attack on religious freedom in America and that it needs to be reversed.”

We’re at this moment, in part, because we’ve taken our liberty for granted. The bishops had the right idea in celebrating the gift that it is to be able to freely worship, really worship God. Religious liberty is about “the freedom to love God,” as Catholic University of America president John Garvey put it. Catholic University, of course, is having to sue the federal government, alongside evangelical Wheaton College, to protect that right. Because religious liberty isn’t just about the right to walk into a Church on Sunday.

My point: The problem we face runs a lot deeper than anything a continuing-resolution fight is ever going to fix. The sooner we get that, the sooner we might be more successful in preserving and nurturing an indispensible support to our democracy.

I, for one, look forward to when pro-life Senator Wendy Long of New York joins Senator Kelly Ayotte’s vote to overturn Obamacare, a law that is fundamentally unfriendly to conscience.

UPDATE: That family business in Denver is safe for now — a federal judge, appointed by Jimmy Carter, granted an injunction Friday afternoon.

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