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Religious Liberty

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch

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Mr. President, earlier today, we were treated to some very partisan remarks from one of my colleagues on the preventive services mandate. That is the legal term. Here is what the mandate is in practice.

It is a mandate that will require religious individuals and institutions to purchase abortion-inducing drugs for their employees. It will require that they purchase insurance coverage that provides for sterilizations and the morning-after pill. In doing so, it will require that they violate their most deeply held religious beliefs, in stark contrast to the first amendment's guarantee of religious liberty.

You would not know that from hearing some on the other side talk. You would think that opposition to this mandate was grounded in bigotry and a lack of concern for our fellow citizens.

This is a serious charge--one deserving of a response. My colleague from California suggested earlier today that the reason Republicans are opposed to this mandate--and the reason tens of millions of Americans are opposed to this mandate--is because they are antiwoman.

With due respect, one would be hard pressed to concoct a more insidious and misleading explanation of the opposition to this mandate.

People are opposed to this mandate for one simple reason--because they are in favor of religious liberty. They are opposed to it because it is an affront to our constitutional government, to the first right listed in our first amendment--the right to free exercise of religion.

We would not know that from my colleague's remarks. She did not even mention the Constitution--not once.

As Members of the Senate, we take an oath to support and defend the Constitution. But to hear members of the administration and some Members of Congress talk, it is clear to me that providing abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations, and the morning-after pill to women is more important than the first amendment we are sworn to the Nation and our constituents to defend.

I do not shock easily, but the cavalier attitude of the President, his administration, and many in Congress to this frontal assault on religious liberty is truly shocking.

There was a time when both parties, liberals and conservatives, could come together on the matter of religious liberty--but not any longer, apparently.

I think it is because for many liberals, religion and the right to practice it freely are not the foundation of our Nation's liberties; rather, they are viewed as a threat to our Nation's liberties. They do not understand religious people. I guess we should have seen this coming when the President ran for the White House in 2008, and he referred pejoratively to these American who cling to their Bibles.

But the fact is, it was people who clung to their Bibles who were at the forefront of some of our Nation's greatest civil rights struggles and have been most committed to advancing the cause of personal liberty. They are at the forefront today serving as a solemn witness of the importance of religious liberty, threatening civil disobedience against the President's unconstitutional abortion mandate that would force them to violate their most cherished moral beliefs.

Instead of treating these powerful witnesses to our founding ideals with the respect they deserve, they are looked at with contempt. This morning, one of my colleagues referred to a panel testifying about this assault on religious liberty as full of ``dudes.''

Her suggestion was that the all-male composition of this panel somehow serves as proof that the objection to this abortion mandate is due to hostility to women. Give me a break. Let me tell you who these so called ``dudes'' were: the Roman Catholic Bishop of Bridgeport, CT; the president of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod; the Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy at Union University; the director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University, and the chair of the Ethics Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

These men, whom my colleague refers to as ``dudes,'' came to Congress to testify about the grave impact this Obamacare rule poses to religious freedom. My colleague from California does not mention these other names because they are inconvenient. She does not mention Margaret Brining, Mary Keys, and Nicole Garnett of the University of Notre Dame. She does not mention Harvard's Mary Ann Glendon or the University of Chicago's Jean Bethke Elshtain or Maria Garlock of Princeton University.

She does not mention Helen Alvare of George Mason University or Maria Aguirre of the Catholic University of America. She does not mention the Mother Superior of the Sisters for Life.

All of these women signed a letter, along with hundreds of other scholars and clergy, stating the obvious truth--that the President's so-called compromise is unacceptable.

Are they all antiwomen too?

These thoughtful citizens, scholars, and religious people deserve our attention not our ridicule. Here is the bottom line: Obamacare is an unconstitutional abomination. It is unconstitutional to its core. The individual mandate is obviously unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court will rule on that soon enough.

But what this episode shows is that Obamacare is unconstitutional in its very DNA. It transfers power over one-sixth of the American economy to the Federal Government, and the government has proven with this episode that individual liberty is threatened by that transfer of power.

If the administration cannot be relied on to protect even religious liberty, the right of persons and churches and synagogues to practice their faith without interference from the State, then nobody is safe. If they are willing to trammel on the first amendment, they are willing to trammel on anything. That is the story.

The story is that earlier this week, Secretary Sebelius acknowledged to me and to the Finance Committee that she never consulted the Roman Catholic bishops before announcing the politically driven compromise that they would be forced to comply with.

The story is that Secretary Sebelius admitted that she never requested any first amendment analysis of this rule from the Department of Justice. The administration has clearly decided this is a political loser for them, so they are trying to change the subject. They send out their surrogates with talking points designed to scare the public into thinking this fight is about contraception. It is not, and the American people will not be fooled. They will not be tricked into thinking that those who oppose this mandate are antiwoman.

Do those who are promoting this spin think we do not have mothers, wives, and daughters? Do they think the women in the Senate and the House representing millions of more women are antiwomen? This is beyond absurd, and the American people will not be duped.

They know this rule exists because the administration is beholden to the pro-abortion lobby. And I can tell you, there is one group that the modern Democratic Party will never cross, never. They will never cross the abortion lobby. So it is no surprise that the Nation's largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, came out in support of the so-called compromise.

The Catholic Church and millions of Americans, however, responded that this is unacceptable. I agree with their assessment. The so-called compromise is nothing of the sort. But as bad as this mandate is, keep in mind it is only the beginning. It is only the first step in a fresh assault on the constitutional liberties of the American people. Believe me, the tragedy of Obamacare is only beginning.

The other day, former Speaker Pelosi suggested that even the Roman Catholic Church itself should have to provide abortion-inducing drugs to their employees. Catholic bishops would be forced, in her regime, to subsidize practices that the Church finds morally abhorrent. That is where this is going. The administration might feel cowed into providing a weak exception to their rule for religious institutions right now, but in the long run we know where they want to go. And the resulting loss of liberty would be bad for men and women alike.

Our Constitution protects all of us. By undermining religious liberty, this administration goes down a very dangerous path. In so doing, the officers responsible for this decision, if they knew of the serious constitutional issues and still went ahead with this action for political reasons, violated their oath to uphold the Constitution.

The Congress and the American people are going to hold them accountable. The President and his reelection campaign would prefer that this just go away. Hence, the admonition from the mainstream media that we stop talking about this issue.

Well, I, for one, am not going to stop talking about it, and I am not going away. I am just getting warmed up. We have seen major countries slip down the road toward totalitarianism because they did not stand up for religious liberty. This is not a question about contraception. This is a question about religious liberty and where we are going to stand.

The fact is, once we start down the road of denying the individual rights of personal conscience and religious freedom, and begin to tell churches and synagogues what they must believe, we are on the way to losing the freedoms all of us hold dear.

Religious freedom is the first freedom mentioned in the Bill of Rights. This is important stuff. I am not Catholic. But I would fight to my death for the Catholic people to be able to live their faith. My own faith feels the same way about many of these issues. No church or person should be forced to make abortion-inducing drugs accessible, as the President's mandate will require them to do.

I do not think any compromise has been suggested so far that would meet the high bar set by our Constitution. There is only one option for the President on this issue. He needs to rescind this unlawful regulation. There is no middle ground. When it comes to the first amendment right to religious liberty, there can be no compromise.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.

The clerk will call the roll.

The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

Sen. Harry Reid

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Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

Without objection, it is so ordered.