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President Trump Fulfills His Promise to Protect and Promote Religious Freedom

The Trump administration announced last Friday that employers who offer health insurance would no longer be required to provide their employees with contraceptive coverage through the Obama-era mandate popularly known as the Affordable Care Act. That mandate stipulated that employers who offered health insurance – including Christian businesses and religious organizations – provide their employees through health coverage plans with access to all forms of contraception including abortion-inducing drugs.

The Trump administration issued two rules exempting employers from providing access to such contraceptives if it conflicts with their sincerely held religious beliefs. The exemptions cover those with moral objections and those with religious objections. The Trump administration stated that the Affordable Care Act failed to properly provide protections to those who held sincere moral or religious convictions against providing contraceptives such as the abortion pill at no cost to their employees.

During a White House Press Briefing, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked for her response to the fact that the ACLU had already stated their intention to file a lawsuit, claiming that “The Trump administration is forcing women to pay for their boss’s religious beliefs.”

Sanders responded:

“The President believes that the freedom to practice one’s faith is a fundamental right in this country, and I think all of us do.  And that’s all that today was about — our federal government should always protect that right.  And as long as Donald Trump is President, he will.”

The action by the Trump administration to broaden the exemption to the HHS contraception mandate has been much applauded, especially among pro-life groups.

Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Greg Baylor stated:

We are pleased that this rule is a major step forward in keeping that promise and restoring back to people of faith their constitutionally protected freedom. We are also pleased the rule protects the conscience convictions of organizations like March for Life, an organization that bases its pro-life beliefs on science and philosophy, and hosts the largest pro-life gathering in the world every year in Washington, D.C.

Alliance Defending Freedom is representing 20 organization and 12 individuals, including the March for Life, in challenges to the HHS Obama-era mandate. The action taken by the Trump administration in broadening the exemptions to the mandate will improve the position of these organizations and individuals, although a final decision from the courts will ultimately be needed to resolve the cases.

With the recent loss of Tom Price as the former Secretary of Health and Human Services, Family Policy Institute of Washington last week appropriately voiced concerns over possible challenges this could pose to the state of religious liberty. Thankfully, it appears that there is still a reason for optimism and that the absence of former Secretary Price as head of HHS at least so far has not hindered the safeguarding of religious liberty protections.

After five grueling years of enduring the Obama-era mandate which, in essence, attempted to force business owners to violate their consciences or face crippling fines and even possible bankruptcy, the action taken by the Trump administration is a very welcome reprieve. Millions of Americans wanted no part of the healthcare mandate and the broadened exemptions put in place by Trump are certainly a partial fulfillment of his many campaign promises to ensure the continued religious liberty and conscience protections for individuals who are simply trying to live peacefully in accordance with their faith.

Josh Denton is a contributing writer for FPIW.

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.

 

 

FPIW Signs Letter Asking Congress to Adopt Pro-life Healthcare Reforms

Recognizing the potential for unprecedented action on healthcare reform during the 115th US Congress, several pro-life organizations have delivered a letter to legislators, calling on them to ensure that any healthcare reforms prohibit federal taxpayer dollars from being used for abortion.

Joseph Backholm, President of Family Policy Institute of Washington, signed on to the letter, joining representatives from Family Research Council, Priests for Life, American Center for Law and Justice, National Right to Life, Christian Medical Association, Students for Life of America, and dozens of other pro-life organizations.

Congress is currently considering several legislative proposals to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. The letter, which was delivered to Republican Members of Congress today, reminds them that “any bill funding healthcare must carry restrictions on abortion funding or it will end up funding the brutal practice of abortion.”

“We are greatly encouraged by the many Republican healthcare proposals that embrace the principle that abortion is not healthcare and should not be incentivized through federal healthcare programs including tax credits for health insurance,” the letter says.

The letter can be read in its entirety here.

 

 

U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Little Sisters of the Poor Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to hear the lawsuit filed by Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of nuns who objected to the Obamacare mandate that requires employer insurance plans to provide contraceptives.

To read more on the case’s background and history, visit the case page at Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Several colleges are also expected to join the case against the mandate, citing religious objection, claiming that the religious exemption supposedly offered by the Affordable Care Act is not sufficient to exempt many religious organizations.

“Efforts to force nuns to buy contraceptives are not only counterproductive, but they are contrary to the values of individual rights and religious freedoms,” said Joseph Backholm, Executive Director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington.  “Like other mandates, we hope the Supreme Court will again halt this overreach by the federal government.”

The Supreme Court is expected to begin hearing oral arguments in the Spring 2016.

Conscience Protections and the Affordable Care Act

Last month’s report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) — the independent government agency that investigates the use of federal funds — cast suspicion over President Obama’s promise that the Affordable Care Act would not undo conscience laws prohibiting the use of federal dollars to fund abortions.

The GAO reported that many plans offered through the state exchanges include abortion coverage.  A large percentage of consumers — both low – and middle – income families — who purchase insurance through these exchanges will receive federal subsidies for their coverage, but of the eighteen insurance providers surveyed by the GAO, not one was collecting a separate fee for abortion insurance.

In our state, the Washington Health Benefit Exchange is the online marketplace where residents purchase health insurance conforming to the requirements of the ACA.  If you qualify for federal subsidies, they will be sent directly to the insurance company on your behalf.

So how does Washington State ensure that taxpayers like you and I are not paying for abortions?  While the topic of abortion rights and funding was a point of strong contention in passing the ACA, it is oddly absent on the Washington Health Benefit Exchange website (wahealthplanfinder.org).  On this site, consumers can enter information about themselves to get price estimates for insurance plans.  There is no question about abortion coverage.  It is also missing on the website of the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner (insurance.wa.gov).  A prominent page on the Insurance Commissioner’s site is titled “What determines how much you’ll pay in premiums.”  Listed below are seven factors, including whether you smoke and whether you qualify for federal subsidies.  Not a word about abortion.

Those who direct the Washington Health Benefit Exchange say that abortion coverage fees required by the ACA will be collected by the IRS.  This is their plan for the tax years 2014 and 2015.  By 2016 they hope to implement a system that collects this fee in a more direct manner.

If you are still following me, you are probably wondering a few things:  Why are they collecting the abortion insurance premiums in such a roundabout way?  And why aren’t they informing women that they will pay extra for abortion coverage?  Won’t these women be surprised and frustrated when, come tax season, they find out they must pay for something they thought was included in the original price?

Or maybe you’re thinking, “Did I unwittingly purchase a plan that includes abortion coverage?  Am I going to be charged for something I never wanted?”  Since most plans include abortion coverage, presumably some women who would never consider getting an abortion may purchase a plan that covers abortion because it has other features that are desirable.  They probably do not know that they will be charged an additional fee for this insurance.

Bill Hinkle is a former state legislator, a pro-life Republican and one of eleven board members of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange.  He insists that our state’s apparent negligence on this front is the result of technical issues.

The state’s website was already designed when the laws regarding abortion coverage were passed, he explained.  “The way our system was set up, we didn’t have any way to do it,” he said.  “I wish it was just some simple accounting thing, but it’s not.”

Hinkle added, “It doesn’t mean that we are not in keeping with the spirit of the law.  There’s nothing political about it.”

That may be the case.  A year after it began to take effect, still no one seems to fully understand the Affordable Care Act or what its final implementation will be.  For concerned citizens, it’s more important than ever to wade through tedious details to stay informed and hold government accountable.   We are living in a new era: Government of the experts, by the experts and perhaps for the experts.  Which makes our task clear—become an expert.

Another Broken Promise

Just over five years ago, an attempt to persuade the Congress and the public to support the Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Obama stood before a joint session of Congress and declared to the American people, “under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place.”

A new report released today, prepared by the independent, nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO), demonstrates that despite the President’s unambiguous promise taxpayer dollars are being spent on abortion.

By way of review, the federal Hyde Amendment strictly prohibited the use of federal funds for abortion from 1976 until 2010, when the ACA was passed.

This longstanding federal policy became a major point of contention in the legislative debate as finding votes proved to be difficult, even among his friends.

Eight pro-life Democrats refused to support the ACA if federal funds were going to be used for abortion.

In order to secure those votes, President Obama proposed a rule that would require any policy covering abortion to charge an abortion surcharge and promised that other funds would not be used to pay for abortion.

In the end, this convinced those who were otherwise uneasy with the law to support it and final passage was secured.

However, this GAO report only confirms the suspicions of many that the proposal was a gimmick intended to secure votes, not an honest attempt to honor the conscience of the hundreds of millions of Americans who do not want to pay for abortions.

Some states took action to prohibit taxpayer funds from being used for abortion. But in states where that did not happen, the federal government has done nothing to ensure compliance with federal law.

The report found that five states (NJ, CT, VT, RI, HI) don’t offer a single plan that doesn’t include abortion coverage. That means that all subsidies in those states are covering abortion.

In the state of California, where 1.25 million people are receiving federal subsidies for their health care plans, 95% of all plans cover abortion.

In the state of New York, 405 of 406 plans cover abortion on demand.

Over 1,000 plans on the ACA exchanges cover abortion on demand, which would never have been allowed under the Hyde Amendment.

The accounting gimmick that was supposed to be the solution to this problem is largely being ignored. Of the 18 companies the GAO surveyed in their study, not one of them was collecting a separate abortion surcharge.

We are not aware of any evidence that the Department of Health and Human Services has made any attempt to require compliance with its own laws on this matter.

If you like your insurance you can keep it, period.

Your premiums will go down.

Federal funds will not be used for abortion.

Looks like none of it was true.

That’s why we should all be concerned that at the same time he was promising not to use federal funds for abortion he was also promising that federal conscience laws will remain.

Consider yourself warned.
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She Was for It Before She Was Against It

Yesterday, in the United States Senate, Washington Sen. Patty Murray voted with fifty-five other Senators to roll back religious freedom.

Specifically, she voted for legislation that would force businesses like Hobby Lobby to pay for contraceptives that violate their sincerely held beliefs.

While Hobby Lobby pays for sixteen different forms of birth control in their coverage, Sen. Murray and others are frustrated that businesses have the freedom to make choices they disagree with.

In the Hobby Lobby decision, the Supreme Court said that the contraception mandate violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because there are ways for the government to make the objectionable forms of birth control available without forcing people to violate their conscience.

If it’s really that important, the government could simply pay for it.

However, instead of proposing legislation to make the objectionable forms of birth control available to Hobby Lobby employees that might want them, Sen. Murray drafted legislation that would make it easier for her to force people to violate their beliefs.

Her website claims that the legislation would “restore the contraceptive coverage requirement guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act and protect coverage of other health services from employers who want to impose their beliefs on their employees by denying benefits.” (emphasis added). 

Oddly, it appears that saying “no” to someone who asks you for something is imposing your beliefs on them.

However, forcing someone to do something they don’t want to do is not.

Her legislation would is intended to be a “legislative fix” to the Hobby Lobby decision and repeal significant protections in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).  Curiously, RFRA was itself a “legislative fix” to the Supreme Court’s 1990 decision in City of Boerne v. Flores.

In the time we’ve moved from “Hammer pants” to skinny jeans, Congress has moved from being alarmed when the Supreme Court takes away the people’s freedom to being alarmed when the Court limits the government’s ability to control the people.

Religious freedom wasn’t always seen as a problem on the left.

In 1993, RFRA passed the House of Representatives 425-0 and passed the Senate 97-3.  Vast right-wing, co-conspirator Bill Clinton signed it into law and later called it one of his greatest accomplishments as President.

Sen. Murray voted for it as well.

Her shift on this issue is symbolic of the left’s shift on individual liberty generally. Nothing about RFRA changed in the last twenty years.

What changed is the urgency with which the left feels the need to control people’s lives.

In 1993, the idea that employers can be forced to pay for their employees abortions would have been greeted with a universal raise of the eyebrow.

Now that Sen. Murray believes that forcing people to violate their conscience is not only permissible but desirable, she is being forced to undo the protections for individual liberty she once championed.

When it comes to religious freedom, at least she can say she was for it before she was against it.

If you want to share your thoughts with Senator Murray, you can contact her at (202) 224-2621 or click here to send her a message.

Why Do Nuns Need Birth Control?

When the Supreme Court released their decision in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius on Monday it started the race to understand what it means for the other challenges to the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare.

The Hobby Lobby case established that the mandate violates the religious freedom of private, family owned companies, but a number of religiously affiliated non-profit organizations have challenged the mandate as well.

Obamacare includes an exemption from the mandate for churches, but that does not extend to thousands of religiously affiliated organizations like hospitals, colleges, universities, religious schools, and charities.

For example, Tyndale House Publishing, which is owned by the nonprofit Tyndale House Foundation and is the largest Bible publisher in the world, has been deemed not religious enough to be exempt.

Another non-profit organization that does not want to be forced to purchase contraception in their insurance plans is Little Sisters of the Poor, an international organization of Catholic nuns that cares for elderly poor people.

They have filed a lawsuit claiming that the requirement to provide contraceptive coverage violates their religious freedom.

In an effort to accommodate religious organizations without exempting them, the Obama Administration has told Little Sisters to sign a letter that the organization’s employees (nuns) could then use to obtain birth control coverage.

However, Little Sisters has argued that signing a letter that someone else would use to obtain birth control makes them complicit in something they believe is wrong.

The Department of Health and Human Services responded by claiming that Little Sisters should not object to signing the letter because it does not make them a party to the transaction but only releases them from the obligation of providing birth control themselves.

But the premise is wrong.

If the free exercise of religion means anything, it means the government doesn’t get to tell the people what is important to them as a matter of conscience, they get to honor it.

When the government tells you what beliefs are approved, that looks much more like an establishment of religion rather than the free exercise of it.

The good news is that the Hobby Lobby decision rejected the idea that government can decide for individuals when an action is morally objectionable.

Justice Alito, in the majority opinion, wrote, “[The objection to the mandate] implicates a difficult and important question of religion and moral philosophy, namely, the circumstances under which it is wrong for a person to perform an act that is innocent in itself but that has the effect of enabling or facilitating the commission of an immoral act by another.  Arrogating the authority to provide a binding national answer to this religious and philosophical question, HHS and the principal dissent in effect tell the plaintiffs that their beliefs are flawed.  For good reason, we have repeatedly refused to take such a step.”

He continued, “it is not for us to say that their religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial.”

This seems like good news for Little Sisters of the Poor.

The government’s argument that religious organizations should be content with the accommodation being offered appears to have been rejected on the grounds that the government doesn’t get to dictate to its subjects err… the people…what is acceptable to them on moral grounds.

If, as we hope they will, the Supreme Court agrees that the contraception mandate violates the religious freedom of non-profit organizations as well, then we can go back to figuring out who thought it was critical to guarantee birth control coverage for an order of nuns in the first place.

Today We Are All a Little More Free

Today we are all a little more free.

In a historic victory for religious freedom, the Supreme Court ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cannot be forced to pay for early abortion drugs for employees.

The Obamacare mandate at issue requires, among other things, that twenty different contraceptive methods be covered by employer insurance.  Two families, the Greens and the Hahns, objected to four of the specified contraceptive methods on moral grounds.

So they went to court and argued that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was passed by Congress in 1993, protects them from being forced to violate their conscience.  In response, the Obama Administration argued that RFRA only protected the rights of individuals and not of for profit companies.

Today, the Supreme Court agreed with the families by concluding that, at least in this case, RFRA protects decisions made by these families in their business life as well as their private life.

In essence, the court said that people do not automatically surrender their religious freedom when they start a business and become job creators.

This decision is particularly significant for Washington businesses like the Everett based Electric Mirror, which filed an amicus brief at the Supreme Court in support of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood.

Electric Mirror is owned and operated by the Mischel family who are committed evangelical Christians. One member of their family, Aaron Mischel, was adopted after his birth mother was convinced not to go through with a planned abortion.

They do not provide abortion coverage or pay for contraception that covers abortion in the health insurance plans for their employees.

Electric Mirror President Jim Mischel, the brother of Aaron Mischel, explains, “Our desire to promote life and protect the most innocent among us is not just theoretical for businesses like ours, it is deeply personal.  We consider it a responsibility and a privilege to do everything we can to take care of our employees and their families, but that does not extend to helping them do things we believe are wrong.  The fact that the law gives you the right to do something should not mean that I, as your employer, am obligated to participate in it with you.  We are thankful that the Supreme Court acknowledged that my beliefs and my business are not separate.”

Justice Alito, who wrote the majority opinion, shared this sentiment,  “It is not for the Court to say that the religious beliefs of the plaintiff are mistaken or unreasonable.”

Abortion industry advocates dislike the decision because they claim it allows employers to get in between the relationship of a doctor and the patient.

In reality, however, employers want to stay out of their employees’ doctor’s office but the mandate attempts to pull them, kicking and screaming, into the consultation room so they can pay the bill.

You may have the right to own a shotgun, but your boss shouldn’t be required to buy one for you.

Employers should be free to offer compensation packages that are acceptable to them and employees should be free to work for whomever they want.  If the parties cannot agree, both should be free to find a better fit.

When government decrees prevail, only those who agree with the decree win.  When individuals retain the right to make decisions for themselves, everyone wins.  Giving the government power over the individual because they’ll use it in a way we like is not a long-term plan to peace and prosperity.  That sword always ends up having two edges.

We can all be thankful for this important decision, but there is still a long way to go.

Tonight, say a prayer for the Greens, the Hahns, and the Mischels whose involvement in these cases have resulted in all of us being a little more free today than we were yesterday.  Then consider what you’re willing to do to protect our religious freedom.  After all, freedom isn’t free and we can’t ask them to do all the work.

Stay tuned, tomorrow we will look at what this means for florists and pharmacists who are also in court trying to protect their religious freedom.

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