Congressmen support legal challenges to HHS mandate

Washington D.C., Mar 27, 2014 / 02:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pro-life members of the House of Representatives spoke out in support of the Green and Hahn families after they argued in front of the Supreme Court in defense of their religious liberty rights.

"To tell people that their conscience is irrelevant and that they must follow the federal government’s conscience rather than their own is completely antithetical to the American principle of freedom of religion and the First Amendment," said Chris Smith (R- N.J.) in a March 25 statement.

 The HHS mandate's "attack on conscience rights will result in government-imposed discrimination against those that seek to live according to their faith," he continued.

Smith, who is co-chair of the Congressional Pro-life Caucus, offered statements along with other pro-life members of the House regarding the two cases heard in the Supreme Court Tuesday, challenging the contraception mandate.

The mandate, issued by the Health and Human Services department as part of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, requires employers to pay for contraceptives, sterilizations, and early embryo-destructive drugs, even if they violate the employer's deeply-held religious beliefs.

While some houses of worship and religious nonprofits have gained an exemption or accommodation from the mandate, for-profit businesses are still required to provide and pay for all objectionable products and procedures.

Both the Hahn family, Mennonite owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties, and the Green family, an evangelical Christian family who own Hobby Lobby, filed suit against the mandate, objecting to its requirement that they  provide and pay for drugs that can kill human persons in their earliest stages of development. Their cases, which were consolidated into one argument, were presented before the Supreme Court March 25.

Dan Lipinski (D- Il.) spoke on the floor of the House March 24, saying religious liberty is a “critical issue,” adding that “I used to teach my American government students that clearly” the free exercise clause “was not (just) freedom to worship … but a freedom to exercise religion in the way you see proper.” “We must protect the freedom to exercise our religious beliefs every day of the week.”

Lipinski noted that religious liberty “is not just a partisan issue; I’m a Democrat, I know this is not a partisan issue … this is not even just a foundational American principle. It’s a fundamental human right.”

“I want to pray for wisdom for our Supreme Court justices tomorrow, as they consider this very critical, fundamental case,” Lipinski concluded, “when we all must rededicate ourselves and continue to fight for religious freedom in our nation, without which we would be giving up on a fundamental pricniple that underlies this greatest of nations.”

James Lankford (R- Okla.), who represents the district where the owners of Hobby Lobby live, said in a March 25 news conference that while people think the Green family are "some kind of corporate tycoons," really, “they’re neighbors.”

"They live less than a mile from my house. This is not something they pursued: it's something that came after them," he added, saying that they offer "great health care" and pay "well above minimum wage," even for starting employees.

Joe Pitts (R- Penn.), whose district represents the Hahn family, explained that the Hahns are "sincere Mennonites that seek to live their lives and practice their faith everywhere they live."

“This is really about faith and freedom: the right not to be compelled to do something by the government that violates your religious beliefs.”

Diane Black (R- Tenn.) criticized the mandate's "crippling fines" of $100 per employee per day. She explained that if "an employer provides health care coverage that fails to cover even one of the controversial drugs included in the mandate, they can be fined up to $36,500 per employee each year," but if the same employer dropped all health care coverage, "their fine is only $2,000 per year."

"Respecting freedom of conscience is a long-held American tradition and the government should not impose mandates or laws that force individuals and businesses to violate this freedom," she added.

Virginia Foxx (R- N.C.), said that “my hope is that the Supreme Court sees fit to stand up for religious liberty and stop this assault on business owners who believe that their faith does not begin and end at the Church door.”

Smith concluded: “Under the weight of the mandate’s ruinous fines and penalties many businesses could be forced to shut down, eliminating jobs. I never would have believed this kind of religious violation could occur in the United States.”

"The Supreme Court must end this abuse."

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