We’ve reached a new low when a senator has to present a bill to restore religious freedom — but at least we still have a senator who will introduce such legislation in the face of an overt trampling of the right to free exercise of religion. Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio today will introduce “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2012,” a bill that would reverse the Obama administration’s recent confirmation of its decision to force religious employers — in conflict with their religious beliefs — to provide employees with insurance that would cover contraceptives and abortifacients.
It’s impossible to overstate just how unjust the Obama administration’s decision in this matter actually is. Catholics and non-Catholics alike recognize it. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson captures the magnitude of its meaning:
Obama chose to substantially burden a religious belief, by the most intrusive means, for a less-than-compelling state purpose — a marginal increase in access to contraceptives that are easily available elsewhere. The religious exemption granted by Obamacare is narrower than anywhere else in federal law — essentially covering the delivery of homilies and the distribution of sacraments. Serving the poor and healing the sick are regarded as secular pursuits — a determination that would have surprised Christianity’s founder.
Both radicalism and maliciousness are at work in Obama’s decision — an edict delivered with a sneer. It is the most transparently anti-Catholic maneuver by the federal government since the Blaine Amendment was proposed in 1875 — a measure designed to diminish public tolerance of Romanism, then regarded as foreign, authoritarian and illiberal. Modern liberalism has progressed to the point of adopting the attitudes and methods of 19th-century Republican nativists. …
The implications of Obama’s power grab go further than contraception and will provoke opposition beyond Catholicism. Christian colleges and universities of various denominations will resist providing insurance coverage for abortifacients. And the astounding ambition of this federal precedent will soon be apparent to every religious institution. Obama is claiming the executive authority to determine which missions of believers are religious and which are not — and then to aggressively regulate institutions the government declares to be secular. It is a view of religious liberty so narrow and privatized that it barely covers the space between a believer’s ears.
Why would Obama betray the religious leaders whose concerns he pretended to hear in this way? Shortly after the president met with the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops, Obama supporters expressed concern that any concession to Catholic leaders might cost him the votes of some liberal women in 2012. One of the readiest explanations for the president’s insistence on this is his unremitting desire to please his base, to retain votes, to win reelection.
Fortunately, Catholic bishops across the country have said they will not comply with this unjust law — and, now, Marco Rubio, too, has taken up the cause of religious liberty. His bill would expand the Obamacare religious exemption, which presently is so narrow as to exclude religiously-affiliated hospitals, schools, charities and businesses. It would ensure that no religious employer would be required to offer coverage in contradiction of the religious tenets the employer espouses. This bill undoubtedly faces an uphill battle in the Senate, but this is too important an issue to not address by every available means. My gratitude to Sen. Rubio for his prompt action on the matter.