Responding to the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood case, Democrats in the Senate and in the House of Representatives have announced plans to circumvent the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The bill's sponsor is Senator Patty Murray. In the ruling, the Supreme Court affirmed the religious liberty of the Green and Hahn families by deciding that closely held corporations could not be forced to provide health care coverage that includes access to potentially abortion-inducing drugs, drugs that violate these families’ deeply held moral convictions. In an important, but often ignored fact, the Green family gladly provides health care to their employees that includes 16 of the 20 federally-approved contraceptive mechanisms.
The ruling was based on RFRA, a statute passed in 1993 as a countermeasure to a Supreme Court ruling in 1990 that significantly weakened the First Amendment’s preservation of religious liberty. The law received bipartisan approval in an almost unanimous vote in the House and the Senate. It was sponsored by Ted Kennedy and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
The President, Ted Kennedy, and Congress all recognized the value in preserving an inalienable right our Founding Fathers set out to protect when they envisioned our country. The law defends the religious freedom of all Americans, and is a critical safeguard for “minority” faiths who, prior to RFRA, were required to appeal for statutory exemptions whenever Congress considered a new law.
RFRA is also a means of accountability for governmental officials who must defend proposed restrictions of religious liberty. Rather than automatically grant any complaint that may be brought forth by citizens, RFRA provides a process for courts to weigh religious liberty with governmental interests.
Once in favor of the law, Democrats have pounced on RFRA, denouncing it as a wedge to enable discrimination against women and corporate empowerment. Their proposition is a new bill: Protect Women’s Health from Corporation Interference Act. The purpose of the bill is to “ensure that employers that provide health benefits to their employees cannot deny any specific health benefits, including contraception coverage, to any of their employees or the covered dependents of such employees or the covered dependents of such employees entitled by Federal law to receive such coverage.”
Senator Murray accuses Hobby Lobby of forcing their religious beliefs on women and of interfering with their employees’ healthcare decisions. If passed by Congress, such a bill would overturn the Hobby Lobby ruling, forcing for-profit businesses and their owners to directly contradict what they believe to be right. Their aim is to affirm the mandated coverage of contraception in the Affordable Care Act.
All should be careful to remember: religious freedom grants freedom to everyone, even if the convictions of some disagree with the convictions of others. Religious liberty is at the core of what it means to be American. Weakening RFRA by amending, nullifying, or changing what has carefully been set in place jeopardizes what our country has advanced for over 400 years.
Reacting to the announcement, Dr. Russell Moore stressed the importance of RFRA and lamented efforts underway to alter its strength and protections. “RFRA was passed with huge bipartisan majorities in both houses. Now, some would jeopardize religious freedom in order to fight their culture war. Religious liberty is too important to everyone in this country to see it end up a dead trophy on the wall on sexual revolutionaries.”
Despite their hardened determination, Democratic success is not hopeful in seeing this legislation passed. While the Protect Women’s Health from Corporation Interference Act may be passed in the Senate, it is doubtful the Republican-controlled House will approve the companion bill being drafted by House Democrats. The stunning reality presented in this effort is the extent democratic leaders are willing to go in order to undermine religious liberty.