Trinity Lutheran v. Comer: Not Your Average Playground Scuffle

In 2012, Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Missouri, faced a problem: its playground was covered with pea gravel—coarse stone fragments that make for a perilous play surface.

Fortunately, Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources runs a grant program that reimburses non-profit organizations for installing playground surfaces made from recycled scrap tires. Hoping to defray the expense of resurfacing its playground, the church submitted an application.

Although the Department ranked Trinity Lutheran’s application fifth out of the 44 submissions it received and awarded 14 grants, it denied the church’s application. Its reasoning? A state constitutional provision—known as a Blaine Amendment—that bars religious institutions like Trinity Lutheran from receiving state funding.

Blaine amendments are the remnants of a wave of anti-Catholic sentiment that swept the nation during the nineteenth century. The original Blaine Amendment, named for Maine Senator James G. Blaine, was designed to protect the existing Protestant monopoly on schools by barring state funding of “sectarian” (i.e., Catholic) institutions. Though Senator Blaine’s amendment failed to gain the necessary votes in Congress, thirty-seven states incorporated similar language into their constitutions. Washington State was one of them.

Washington’s Blaine Amendment remains wholly intact; that is, unless Trinity Lutheran has its way in the Supreme Court. By the end of its term on June 30, the Court will very likely decide whether excluding religious institutions from a secular grant program under a state Blaine Amendment violates the U.S. Constitution.

Here, Trinity Lutheran contends that government should not be able to deprive religious institutions of the benefits it makes available to all. To do so would run afoul of the Constitution’s Equal Protection and Free Exercise clauses which, when read together, provide that states must generally treat religious individuals the same as they would treat any other individuals. When a state does subject a religious individual or entity to unequal treatment, it must provide an especially compelling reason for doing so.

The government’s rationale behind the grant restriction boils down to avoiding the establishment of a state religion. A decision in favor of Trinity Lutheran would compel taxpayers to fund improvements to church property. This arrangement, according to the Department, constitutes unlawful state funding of religion. Unlawful, that is, under the Supreme Court’s current interpretation of the Establishment Clause.

The government’s argument rests on a fundamental misreading of the Constitution. For decades, the Supreme Court has insisted that government must not only avoid favoring one religion over another, but avoid preferring religion over non-religion. Scholars have vigorously debated whether this principle accurately reflects the Establishment Clause’s meaning since 1947, when the Supreme Court handed down its misguided decision in Everson v. Board of Education.

Aside from the merits of either interpretation, the inescapable consequence of the Court’s interpretation pits the First Amendment’s two religious clauses against one another in case after case. Trinity Lutheran’s dispute provides yet another example of this unresolved tension.

It is highly unlikely that the Supreme Court will resolve the Free Exercise/Establishment Clause debate here. Nonetheless, Trinity Lutheran has offered the Court a ripe opportunity to chip away at—if not abolish altogether—the anti-religious legacy of state Blaine amendments.

That is, assuming the justices aren’t too chicken to play.


Christina Pesavento is a blog contributor from the “other” Washington (Washington, DC), where she works at a legal non-profit association. She previously served as a law clerk with the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and was president of the Federalist Society chapter at the American University Washington College of Law.


 

Would the Johnson Amendment Have Stopped the War for Independence and Abolitionist Movement?

Had the Johnson Amendment been in effect prior to 1954, the American War for Independence and the abolitionist movement may have never happened.

The Johnson Amendment to the federal tax code prohibits nonprofit, tax-exempt entities from participating in, or intervening in, “any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.” This prohibition includes “the publishing or distributing of statements” on behalf of candidates, legislation, or political parties.

The amendment was originally proposed by Texas Senator (and future President) Lyndon B. Johnson to silence and retaliate against the nonprofit political organizations that had been created to support his primary opponent. It was passed in 1954 by a unanimous voice vote without debate.

Although Congress never intended to include churches in the prohibition, “the I.R.S. has steadfastly maintained that any speech by churches that the IRS could construe as supporting or opposing candidates for government office, including sermons from the pulpit, can result in loss of tax exemption,” according to Alliance Defending Freedom.

The Johnson Amendment has had a chilling effect on American churches. Radical atheist organizations like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have mounted public relations campaigns to intimidate churches and pastors. Not only do they spread misinformation about what churches and pastors can/cannot do regarding political involvement, but they have also reported to the IRS those churches who refused to remain silent about issues relating to government.

However, American pulpits have not always been censored by the federal government. Before the enactment of the Johnson Amendment, churches and pastors used their moral authority to speak prophetically to members and the culture about political issues.

From colonial times until the twentieth century, American churches often used their trusted social position to proclaim the Bible’s truth about issues being debated in public.

For example, pastors would frequently endorse or oppose specific candidates for public office, and they shared with their congregations whether a piece of legislation or a candidate’s positions were compatible with biblical principles. Pastors also commonly preached “Election Sermons,” which were given in the audience of public officials to exhort them to govern according to God’s truth and design for society.

Recognizing that a faithful exposition of God’s Word demanded that they preach about political issues, churches and pastors spoke into the civil arena and helped shape the American political debate for centuries. Perhaps this is no more apparent than the indispensable role churches played in the War for Independence, the abolition movement, and early civil rights movements.

John Adams, himself a central figure in the independence movement and the early republic, pointed to the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Mayhew as having had a “great influence in the commencement” of the American War for Independence. Like many of his contemporaries, Mayhew preached and published sermons that seemed to “revive… animosity against tyranny in church and state.”

It was in church that early Americans learned of their inalienable rights and the proper jurisdiction and role of civil government. According to Adams, the Spirit of 1776 ripened, in part, because “the pulpits thundered!”

Leading up to the Civil War, churches also played a key role in the movement to abolish slavery. Quakers, Wesleyans, American Baptists, Congregationalists, and some Methodists stridently opposed the peculiar institution and mobilized political and social efforts against it, with their churches serving as the center of the action. Churches comprised many of the stops along the “Underground Railroad,” offering their sanctuaries as hiding places for those escaping slavery.

It is no wonder that the abolition of slavery came on the heels of the Second Great Awakening, an Evangelical religious revival during the early nineteenth century that stressed the importance of a personal relationship with Christ and propelled efforts to reform society according to biblical precepts.

Imagine if the Johnson Amendment had been around during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Would American churches have assumed their role as agents of social change in the movements for independence, abolition, and civil rights if their free speech had been muzzled by the federal government?

Churches and pastors have a biblical obligation to share biblical positions on political issues with their members and their communities. Throughout this nation’s history, churches have acted as champions of justice.

Although President Trump campaigned on “totally destroying” the Johnson Amendment, his religious liberty executive order last month failed to make any substantive changes to IRS policy. The ACLU called the executive order a “faux sop to religious conservatives” and an “elaborate photo-op” that “does not meaningfully alter the ability of religious institutions or individuals to intervene in the political process.”

It is time to stop censoring the constitutionally protected religious speech of American pulpits. Pastors who preach and uphold the entirety of the Bible should no longer have to fear the IRS. Congress should not wait any longer to begin the process of repealing the Johnson Amendment.


Blaine Conzatti is a columnist and research fellow at the Family Policy Institute of Washington. He can be reached at Blaine@FPIW.org.


In Defense Of Bernie Sanders

I have long opposed Bernie Sanders’ socialist, anti-constitution, and anti-family agenda. Yet I feel the need to come to the senator’s defense on the issue of religious tests.

On Wednesday, the Senate Budget Committee held its confirmation hearing for Russell Vought, President Trump’s recent nominee for deputy budget director. Sanders aggressively interrogated the nominee during the hearing about an article he had written after his alma matter, Wheaton College, a private Evangelical college in Illinois, forced out a professor for making curiously unorthodox doctrinal statements about Islam. Specifically, Sanders found this excerpt from Vought’s article particularly offensive:

“Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.”

Sanders asked Vought whether he believed the statement was Islamophobic, to which the nominee responded by explaining that his article was written in accordance with Wheaton College’s statement of beliefs and traditional Christian doctrine. Vought then proceeded to clarify that he, as a Christian, believes Jesus Christ is central to salvation.

Sanders, clearly offended by Vought’s religious beliefs, told the committee that he would vote against confirming the nominee.

Many on the political left and right alike were horrified that Sanders would choose not to support a presidential nominee because of the nominee’s religious beliefs. In an article published by The Atlantic, Emma Green accuses Sanders of creating “a religious test for Christians in office.” Writing for National Review, David French commends Bernie Sanders “to brush up on his civic education and remember that religious freedom belongs even to citizens (and nominees) he doesn’t like.”

Despite these hyperbolic claims, it’s important to realize that Bernie Sanders isn’t creating a religious test by refusing to support Vought’s nomination.

It’s true that Article VI of the Constitution bans religious tests for “any office or public trust under the United States.” It certainly would be unconstitutional for Congress to pass a law prohibiting Christians from serving in elected federal offices. Similarly, Congress could not require that all elected officials belong to a particular denomination or ascribe to certain theological beliefs.

However, Bernie Sanders isn’t advocating the enactment of laws forbidding Christians from holding office. Instead, he is merely exercising his right as a citizen and senator to withhold his support for a presidential nominee with whom he disagrees, an action that is unquestionably allowable under Article VI.

An historical anecdote may better elucidate this point. When early Americans worried that Muslims, atheists, or pagans might be elected to federal office, Justice James Iredell, a George Washington appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court, assured his apprehensive countrymen that it was unlikely that the voters would ever elect candidates with religious beliefs the voters believed to be aberrant:

“But it is objected that the people of America may perhaps choose representatives who have no religion at all, and that pagans and [Muslims] may be admitted into offices. . . . But it is never to be supposed that the people of America will trust their dearest rights to persons who have no religion at all, or a religion materially different from their own.”

Although the Constitution forbids the federal government from employing religious tests for federal officeholders, the people are left free to support or oppose candidates on the basis of religious beliefs.

In an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” during this last election cycle, Republican presidential nominee Dr. Ben Carson adamantly declared that he would not agree with “putting a Muslim in charge of this nation” because Islam is inconsistent with the Constitution. Unsurprisingly, hysterical liberal journalists began accusing Carson of imposing an unconstitutional religious test.

Just like Carson has the right to oppose a Muslim presidential candidate, Sanders has the right to object to a Christian presidential nominee, even if his only reason is because he finds Christian theology reprehensible. While our Constitution bans the federal government from implementing religious tests for officials, it thankfully allows the people and their representatives to consider whether someone’s religion makes him or her unfit for the office he or she is seeking.

Our nation’s founders unquestionably believed that the people’s right to judge a candidate’s religion is essential to their function as voters. We shouldn’t argue otherwise.


Blaine Conzatti is a columnist and research fellow at the Family Policy Institute of Washington. He can be reached at Blaine@FPIW.org.

Joe Kennedy’s Case To Be Heard By Ninth Circuit Monday

He was fired for praying on the football field after games. Now Coach Kennedy will have his case heard by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

School officials told Joe Kennedy—a former assistant football coach at Bremerton High School who was adored by his players—that he couldn’t pray after football games. After Kennedy continued praying, Bremerton School District placed him on administrative leave. They chose not to rehire him the next season.

Kennedy has sued the school district for discriminating against him on the basis of his religion.

This Monday, June 12, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District at 9:00 am. The oral arguments will be heard at William K. Nakamura Courthouse, 1010 Fifth Avenue, Seattle, WA 98104.

Kennedy is being represented by First Liberty, a nationally renowned religious liberty legal defense organization. First Liberty has created a webpage to provide more information for those who want to learn about the particulars of the case.

Religious Liberty Executive Order Good First Step

Affirming that our liberties are a gift of God that no government can rightfully take away, President Donald Trump today signed the long-awaited executive order on religious liberty.

The executive order has two main components. First, it directs government officials to consider changing regulations to allow conscience-based objections to the contraceptive mandate, which requires insurance plans to cover contraceptives and abortifacients.

Second, it instructs federal agencies to avoid penalizing tax-exempt organizations, including churches, that “speak about moral or political issues from a religious perspective.”

Speaking to the press in the White House Rose Garden before signing the executive order, the president reiterated his belief that “for too long, the federal government has used the power of the state as a weapon against people of faith, bullying and even punishing Americans for following their religious beliefs.”

While there is hope that today’s executive order will be a first step to restoring religious liberty, there remain grave threats to the fundamental freedom to live according to the dictates of one’s faith and conscience.

Joseph Backholm, President of FPIW, says he is “cautiously optimistic” about the executive order, calling it “a step in the right direction.”

Backholm hopes the executive order will be used by federal agencies to “develop comprehensive rules protecting religious liberties.”

Some religious liberty advocates, including the Heritage Foundation’s Ryan T. Anderson, expressed their concern that the executive order fails to make substantive reforms protecting religious liberty. In a press release today, Alliance Defending Freedom President Michael Ferris said the executive order amounts to “vague instructions to federal agencies [that] simply leaves them wiggle room to ignore [the] gesture.”

A draft of the executive order released in February included far greater protections for religious liberty. That draft protected the rights of those—including federal employees, religious organizations, and some businesses—who believe in traditional marriage and the traditional conception of two genders, male and female. These protections were not included in the executive order signed today.

“Our founding fathers believed that religious liberty was so fundamental that they enshrined it in the very first amendment of our great and beloved constitution,” President Trump said in the Rose Garden press conference today. “No American should be forced to choose between the dictates of the federal government and the tenets of their faith.”

On that, Mr. President, we wholeheartedly agree.

Why Are Judges Only Concerned About Anti-Muslim Bias?

Central to the legal argument of those who oppose President Trump’s executive orders restricting travel to and from six Middle East nations is the idea that his campaign rhetoric invalidates the executive orders.

In her decision against the executive order, US District Judge Leonie Brinkema from Virginia wrote, “Absent the direct evidence of animus presented by the Commonwealth, singling out these countries for additional scrutiny might not raise Establishment Clause concerns; however, with that direct evidence, a different picture emerges.” Brinkema admits that the executive order would likely have been found constitutional had it been given by any other president. She goes on to explain her opinion that President Trump’s campaign rhetoric suggests that the order “was not motivated by rational national security concerns” but “religious prejudice.”

US District Judge Derrick Watson from Hawaii concurred. Watson reasons that Trump’s comments on the campaign trail represent “significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus driving the promulgation of the Executive Order,” and that such animus was enough to violate the Constitution, even though nothing in the order is inherently illegal.

It is concerning that the precedent being set by these court decisions is that the author’s statements about the law determines its legality, not the actual text of the laws themselves. Presumably, this means any action taken by President Trump affecting Muslims will be declared unconstitutional.

Why wasn’t this novel legal standard applied to the previous administration’s actions affecting Christians, especially considering the administration’s animus toward those holding traditional religious values?

Amid the 2008 presidential primary season, then-Senator Obama, speaking of small town Americans, said that they were “bitter” and that they “cling to guns or religion.” By clearly demonstrating “religious prejudice” and “significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus” toward conservative Christians, Obama’s comments could have been used to find his actions affecting conservative Christians unconstitutional, at least according the logic of the aforementioned judges.

Funny enough, Obama’s comments weren’t used to find his actions affecting Christians unconstitutional, and not for lack of opportunities. Obama administration executive orders and legislation often ended up in court on the grounds of religious freedom involving Christians, most prominently Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Martin Castro, the Obama-appointed chairman of the US Commission on Civil Rights, declared that “religious liberty” and “religious freedom” were nothing but “code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance.” Any reasonable person would interpret these statements as anti-Christian animus. As the head of a major federal agency, Castro’s words clearly carry weight. So why do his rhetoric and the similar statements of others in the Obama administration never seem to come up in religious freedom cases involving Christians? Why are separate standards applied in cases based on the religion in question?

The appropriate conclusion is clear: The religious liberty of Christians is not valued by mainstream America in the same way that the religious liberty of other religions is. And even more disappointing, the religious liberty of Christians isn’t valued by the courts in the same way other religions are.

As President Trump fills out the more than 100 judicial vacancies, he should make the issue of religious liberty a top priority in his selections. Judge Neil Gorsuch is a great start. Let’s hope this emphasis on religious liberty continues to be reflected in lower court appointments, too.

 

James Silberman is a guest contributor to the FPIW Blog. He is a pro-life activist from Gig Harbor, WA, and a student at Whitworth University.

We Don’t Give Up Our Inalienable Rights When We Go Into Business

Surprisingly – or maybe not – the decision made by the Washington State Supreme Court regarding Arlene’s Flowers last month went widely unreported. Although the Court’s decision was upsetting to religious liberty supporters, the outcome was already expected by most when the Attorney General’s crusade against Barronelle Stutzman was first made public. Washington State has been overstepping its legitimate jurisdiction for years now, and many pro-family advocates already understand that we are fighting an uphill battle. What is amazing, though, isn’t the decision itself, but the arguments I saw on social media in favor of the Court’s decision.

I came across some interesting things when reading through an online comment thread this morning. First, people don’t seem to understand the difference between a privately owned business and a publicly owned business. Their argument falsely assumes that a business operated out of the privacy of a home on a referral basis would have the right to deny service; however, should the entrepreneur choose to open a shop open to the public, the owner’s rights must be jettisoned. But in reality, operating a business that is open to the public does not mean it is a “publicly owned business” or that the business owner’s rights should be subjected to the demands of the mob.

There are several different types of business structures. Sole proprietorship is the most common and refers to a business that is owned (and typically operated) by one person. This person usually sinks everything they own into their business. A proprietor is legally and financially responsible for their business; if, for example, a business is sued, the proprietor’s assets will be used to pay the damages. Another business arrangement is a partnership, in which two or more people enter into a business agreement and still retain full liability. Limited liability companies (LLCs) are structured similarly to a partnership, but such an arrangement provides some protection to the owners against accidents or lawsuits. There are also corporations which act as a separate entity from their owner(s) entirely. All of these businesses are private. The owners retain their rights. A person does not relinquish their fundamental, inalienable, constitutionally-protected rights when he or she enters into business.

The individual then tried to argue that refusing services based on politics is acceptable while refusing business based on conscience is somehow abhorrent. To someone looking at it from an objective, logical standpoint, this assertion makes little sense. Why is discrimination motivated out of political beliefs allowed when discrimination rooted in religious beliefs is not acceptable? If you’re going to decry religious discrimination, then you cannot reasonably support political discrimination.

Perhaps the most erroneous argument I heard on this thread was the claim that there are protected classes of citizens. These protected classes are groups of people who, because of various claims of racism, bigotry, sexism, and homophobia, claim to need additional protections under the law. This does a serious disservice to the LGBTQ community by essentially making them second-class citizens. One commentator refers to this as “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” meaning that some feel these groups need additional protections not afforded to other groups of people because the marginalized groups are helpless without those protections. The progressive Left uses these tactics to create dependence, exacerbating these issues to assemble a larger voting block which allows them to remain in office (and receive a substantial paycheck). In return, they promise to fight for societal validation and respect for those groups. In his dissent over the same-sex marriage decision, Justice Thomas said, “The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.”

Conservatives fight against these special protections because no one’s rights should be placed above those of another. It is man’s nature to have dissenting opinions. Everyone will never agree on everything, and it is not possible to have a society where no one’s feelings are hurt. But thankfully, we do live in a society where everyone is afforded the same rights under the law. Because government cannot protect the feelings of some without violating the rights of others, its role is to protect everyone’s religious liberty, conscience rights, and freedom of speech and association, even for those who the majority finds distasteful or offensive. Perhaps Thomas Jefferson put it best when he said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”

 

Kyli Erickson is a guest contributor to the FPIW Blog.

Religious Liberty: The Kleins’ Battle is Our Battle

The freedom to discern right from wrong is among the most fundamental of human rights. It is so central to our being that it is a defining aspect of human nature itself. If we have no conscience, or no freedom to express our conscience, then we are denied part of our humanity.

Freedom of conscience was on trial on Thursday before the Oregon Court of Appeals. Aaron and Melissa Klein and their business, Sweet Cakes by Melissa, are currently the subject of a major religious freedom lawsuit. The Kleins lost their bakery and were fined $135,000 for declining to create a custom-made wedding cake for a same-sex marriage. Also of note, the Kleins were given a gag order by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, preventing them from speaking publicly about the details of the case or their religious beliefs.

This comes on the heels of Richland, WA, florist Barronelle Stutzman losing her case in the Washington State Supreme Court (Stutzman was sued by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson after she declined to provide a same-sex wedding). These cases, and the many like them currently being litigated around the country, are not about homosexuality or Christianity. What is at stake is the fundamental liberty and natural right of each of us as American citizens to live our lives according to our sincerely-held beliefs.

For small business owners everywhere, many state governments, including Washington and Oregon, are making their position clear: deny your own conscience or give up your business, have your savings accounts emptied, and possibly spend time in jail.

Canadian philosopher Stefan Molyneux explains the issue well: “If you have no freedom of conscience, you have no freedom at all. Conscience must be inviolate. It’s the essence of who we are.”

Likewise, “When people can force you to go against what your conscience dictates, they own you more deeply than any slave master,” Molyneux said on his Freedomain Radio show.

You may not personally know Aaron and Mellissa Klein, Barronelle Stutzman, Donald and Evelyn Knapp, or Cynthia and Robert Gifford, but these people represent the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Their battle is our battle. If they continue losing in court, the government will have the unchecked power to strong-arm individuals of any race, religion or creed into violating their conscience. It is my hope that every individual, Christian and Atheist, liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican, straight and gay, will reject that dastardly kind of totalitarianism.

 

James Silberman is a guest contributor to the FPIW Blog. He is a pro-life activist from Gig Harbor, WA, and a student at Whitworth University.

FPIW Joins Effort to Encourage Trump to Protect Religious Freedom

FPIW has joined with dozens of pro-family organizations asking President Trump “to swiftly sign a broad religious freedom Executive Order protecting the right of all Americans to freely live out their faith.”

In a letter to President Trump, Vice President Pence, Speaker Ryan, and Majority Leader McConnell, the organizations call on the new presidential administration and Congress to reverse President Obama’s attacks on religious freedom and enact strong protections for the sacred right.

The letter evokes many high profile religious liberty cases of the last eight years, including Hobby Lobby, Little Sisters of the Poor, Illinois Catholic Charities, and Sweet Cakes by Melissa:

“Under his ‘hallmark achievement’ (Obamacare) alone, the Obama Administration attempted to: force Christian family-owned businesses like Hobby Lobby to pay for drugs and devices that can cause early abortions, force Christian charities like the Little Sisters of the Poor to include those same drugs in their healthcare plans, and contravene longstanding federal policy protecting Americans from being forced to fund abortions against their religious beliefs. …

“Families in our states have felt the impact of the disregard and disdain for religious freedom from the federal level. Frequently, state non-discrimination laws have been used as a weapon to punish people of faith and prevent them from earning a living— unless they comport their businesses in the image of the government’s viewpoints. The Kleins in Oregon are a tragic example—Melissa Klein lost her bakery business and was forced to pay a fine of over $100,000 simply because as a family-owned business operated in accordance with the Kleins’ deeply held beliefs, they disagreed with using Melissa’s cake-decorating talents to participate in a same-sex wedding. Illinois Catholic Charities—an organization that partnered with government to serve the state’s poor and neglected children for over 40 years—was forced to shut down rather than comply with the government’s rule requiring them to abandon the core convictions that motivated their charity in the first place.”

It also details the Obama Administration’s attempts to limit religious liberty to a more restricted “freedom to worship”:

“The Administration unsuccessfully argued that the First Amendment does not exempt churches from employment discrimination laws, even when hiring their own pastors and teachers. Ironically, in the name of ‘preventing discrimination,’ President Obama issued an Executive Order in 2014 that discriminates against faith-based entities by preventing them from contracting with their own government unless they forfeit their religious beliefs about human sex and sexuality. One final example is the Obama Administration’s regular use of the term ‘freedom of worship’ instead of ‘freedom of religion’—implying a deep misunderstanding about the depth of First Amendment protections. We are guaranteed the right to freely live out our faith in all aspects of life—not just the freedom to worship our God within the four walls of our church or home.”

The letter concludes by asking President Trump to sign an executive order protecting religious liberty, much like the proposed executive order that was leaked earlier this month:

“A broad religious freedom Executive Order affirming that persons and organizations do not forfeit their religious freedom when providing social services, education, or healthcare; earning a living, seeking a job, or employing others; receiving government grants or contracts; or otherwise participating in the marketplace, the public square, or interfacing with local, state, or federal governments is an excellent and vital first step to truly make religious freedom great again. Congress should follow your lead to pass strong religious freedom protections into law.”

Click here to read the letter in its entirety.

Write to President Trump and ask him to sign the executive order: https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact#page.

House Committee Debates Bringing Obamacare Mandates to Washington

Should controversial mandates from Obamacare—which many believe are on the way out in Washington, D.C.—be made a permanent part of Washington State law?

That is the question the House Healthcare and Wellness Committee considered this morning.  The committee heard public testimony on HB 1523, which would require all health insurance plans to cover all preventative services required under federal law as of December 31, 2016.  It also bans plans that would share the cost of any of those services with employees.

Even before public testimony was heard, members of the committee expressed concern about the details of the bill.  The one-page bill is remarkably short.  However, it incorporates hundreds of pages of federal law and an untold volume of “guidance” into Washington State law.  No one seemed to have an understanding of exactly what the mandates do and do not cover.

Some of those who came to Olympia today to express concerns about HB 1523. From left to right: Brett Kinney, Electric Mirror; Michael Pauley, Human Life of Washington, Arina Grossu, Family Research Council, Luke Esser, Washington State Catholic Conference

Proponents of the bill argued that mandatory coverage for “preventative care” would make it easier to detect diseases like cancer at a time when it was most treatable.

But concerns about the legislation focused on very different issues.

Arina Grossu, from the Family Research Council, testified that the mandate to cover “preventative services” includes requirements to pay for abortifacients like Plan B and Ella, which destroy human embryos and are therefore objected to as a matter of conscience by many.

Brett Kinney, Director of Business Operations for Everett-based manufacturer Electric Mirror, explained the concerns of businesses owners in being forced to pay for a product that violates the beliefs of business owners:

“We offer a comprehensive affordable medical plan to our nearly 400 employees that does not include abortifacients. Not once have we heard complaints that our medical plan or the prescriptive drug plan was not adequate to serve the needs of our employees which includes over 100 women ages 18 to 70.  This bill is trying to solve a problem that is not a problem and forcing us the employer to add cost which reduces our ability to grow our business and put more people to work.”

The Washington State Catholic Conference also offered testimony stating that they will not comply with legislation that forces them to pay for abortifacients, regardless of what the law says.

In addition to concerns about conscience rights, insurance industry representatives expressed concern that the bill appears to be an attempt to preempt a change in federal law before those changes actually take place.  They expressed a preference for waiting to see what happens in Washington, D.C., before reacting to it.

Obamacare mandates involving abortifacients led businesses like Hobby Lobby to sue the federal government, claiming that such mandates violate their religious beliefs.  In the Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court held that the mandates were invalid because they violated the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).  However, Washington State does not have a state RFRA, which means the protections for conscience rights in Washington State are less robust than those that restrain actions of the federal government.

To advance, this bill needs the support of a majority of the members of the House Healthcare and Wellness Committee.

If that happens, it would need to receive passage from the entire House of Representatives before moving to the Senate for consideration.

Please contact your legislators and share your thoughts about this and any other issue through the Legislative Hotline at 1-800-562-6000 or email them by clicking here. 

As always, be respectful but be heard.  If you don’t speak for yourself, someone will speak for you.