Obamacare, Religious Liberty, and Civil Society: What the Debate Is Really About


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ABSTRACT Obamacare, Religious Liberty and Civil Society: What the Debate Is Really About   Heritage Action Heritage Libertad More For Members My Heritage AskHeritage Issues 33 Minutes Culture for Freedom Family Facts Fix Health Care Policy Order in the Court Overcriminalized Seek Social Justice Voices of School Choice Resources Budget Chart Book Index of Economic Freedom Issues 2012 Policy Experts Social Security Calculator Thatcher Center About Issues Research Events Blog Contact Us Heritage Members Conservative Community Press & Media Government Staff Young Leaders Employment at Heritage Get Connected Newsletters Take Action The Foundry Blog RSS Events Donate All Research Reports Commentaries Factsheets Multimedia Testimonies Lectures Issue Brief #3570 This is an Issue Brief On Health Care Issue Brief - Heritage Issue Briefs give readers a concise analysis of fast-breaking policy developments and current events. Obamacare, Religious Liberty, and Civil Society: What the Debate Is Really About By Ryan Messmore, D.Phil. April 18, 2012 Print Share Facebook Twitter Email More The recent Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate under Obamacare, requiring nearly all insurance plans to cover abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization, has sparked heated debate across the country. Although proponents of Obamacare have attempted to frame the debate differently, one question remains fundamentally at issue: Can the federal government mandate what insurance plans must cover, employers must offer, and individuals must buy? This overreaching power is especially egregious when it forces institutions and individuals to violate their beliefs. The HHS mandate forces most employers to provide insurance coverage for these products and procedures, regardless of religious or moral objections, under penalty of federal fines. This mandate tramples basic freedoms in general—and the First Amendment freedom of religion in particular—and harms civil society institutions. Empty Promises from the Administration President Obama has proposed a hypothetical “accommodation” that would require insurance companies (rather than employers) to offer employees contraceptive care free of charge. Even if this so-called accommodation were to become law in the future, it would not resolve the moral issue, for insurance companies would still likely charge employers the premiums necessary to cover their employees’ morning-after pills. The President’s accommodation really is no more than a talking point. The final anti-conscience mandate was published in the Federal Register on February 15, 2012, with no change from the version published on August 3, 2011, that caused the outrage in the first place. On March 16, 2012, the Administration released an advance notice of proposed rulemaking, requesting public comment on its suggested “accommodation.” The Administration’s suggestion does not hold the force of law and, even if it were implemented, is nothing but an accounting gimmick that would not solve the mandate’s fundamental religious liberty violation. Amid all the political gimmicks and rhetoric, it is important to be clear: This debate is about the government’s relationship to civil society. Obamacare gives unprecedented power to the federal government to dictate how private individuals and institutions must behave. Further, because of its extremely stringent exemption for religious groups—effectively covering only houses of worship—the HHS mandate takes an unduly narrow view of religious liberty, ignoring the religious identity of many institutions and weakening their role in society. Obamacare moves the dial of moral decision making drastically toward the state and attempts to remake civil society in the government’s own image. Six Misconceptions About the Religious Liberty Debate Ultimately, this debate is about the freedom of institutions that are guided by moral convictions—convictions that differ from those of the federal bureaucrats whom the new health care law places in charge of health care for everyone. It is about Americans’ freedom to live and work in line with their beliefs. But the debate has been plagued by six repeated misconceptions. Misconception #1: This debate is about religious institutions violating the separation of church and state. Correction: This is a debate about whether government should force religious institutions to violate deeply held religious beliefs. It is not about whether religious institutions are violating so-called separation of church and state by unduly influencing government policy. The phrase “separation of church and state” does not even appear in the Constitution, but if it means anything at all, it is that the state should not interfere in the affairs of religious institutions by forcing them to violate their consciences. Private employers that wish to provide contraception to employees are free to do so. Religious employers objecting to the anti-conscience mandate are simply asking for the sa.......