Friday, February 24, 2012

Attorney General Pruitt Joins Six Attorneys General in Lawsuit Defending Religious Liberty

Seven states are asking a federal judge to block an Obama administration mandate that requires birth control coverage for employees of religious-affiliated hospitals, schools and outreach programs.
The lawsuit in U.S. District Court of Nebraska alleges that the new rule violates the First Amendment rights of groups that object to the use of contraceptives. The suit argues, “The First Amendment has for centuries, served as a rampart against government interference with religious liberty.”
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a statement, “Any rule, regulation or law that forces faith-based institutions to provide for services that violate their free exercise of religion, or that penalizes them for failing to kneel at the altar of government, is a flat-out violation of the First Amendment.”
Attorney General Scott Pruitt was among seven attorneys general to file a lawsuit Thursday against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, challenging the federal government’s requirement that religious employers offer health insurance coverage for sterilization services that conflict with their religious beliefs.
The complaint, filed today in U.S. District Court in Nebraska, challenges the constitutionality of the federal government’s impending mandate, claiming the requirement would be an unprecedented invasion of First Amendment rights to free speech, free exercise of religion and free association.
“Any regulation that requires a religious group to violate their lawful beliefs and practices goes directly against the ideals that our Founding Fathers set in place to protect Americans from an overbearing and intrusive government,” Pruitt said. “It conflicts with the most basic elements of freedom provided to all Americans to practice their lawful religion wherever, whenever and however they choose. For that reason, we have filed a lawsuit asking the Court to find the regulation unconstitutional.”
Earlier this month, the AGs sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner warning of a possible challenge in court if the mandate wasn’t withdrawn.
The states joining Nebraska are Michigan, Florida, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (S. 2043), which would block the requirement that religiously affiliated universities, hospitals, nursing homes, and other institutions offer health plans that cover birth control — including abortion-causing “contraception” drugs such as RU-486 — without a co-pay or deductible. While churches, synagogues, and other places of worship have been exempted from the ObamaCare mandate, the President has decreed that religious employers must concur, giving them until August 2013 to comply.
“In effect, the President is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,” said Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In announcing the bill, Senator Rubio said that President Obama’s “obsession with forcing mandates on the American people has now reached a new low by violating the conscience rights and religious liberties of our people. Under this President, we have a government that has grown too big, too costly, and now even more overbearing by forcing religious entities to abandon their beliefs.”
Rubio called his proposed measure a “common-sense bill that simply says the government can’t force religious organizations to abandon the fundamental tenets of their faith because the government says so.” Under the legislation, language in Obama’s 2010 healthcare law would be amended to stipulate that “no guideline or regulation … shall require any individual or entity to offer, provide, or purchase coverage for a contraceptive or sterilization service, or related education or counseling, to which that individual or entity is opposed on the basis of religious belief.”
Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) has introduced a companion bill, H.R. 3897, in the House; it has 8 cosponsors at present. In a similar vein, Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has introduced the Religious Freedom Protection Act of 2012, S. 2092.

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