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Assault on Religious Freedom

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. BARLETTA. Mr. Speaker, a few weeks ago, President Obama stood in this very Chamber and spoke about the need for fairness. Fairness, he said, is an American value. Yet the President and his administration are blatantly ignoring one of the most basic of American values--the freedom of religion. I'm referring to the decision by the Obama administration to force Catholic employers to provide insurance that includes coverage for sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraception.

Catholic employers who fail to provide that insurance coverage could be fined $2,000 per employee per year. And the Obama administration will force Catholics to buy insurance coverage that includes coverage for services that many of them find morally wrong. For many Catholics, this requirement violates their core beliefs about the sanctity of life of the unborn.

The health care law that is forcing Catholics to put their government ahead of their God includes a ``religious conscience'' exemption. It allows people with certain religious objections to opt out, and some religious groups have been allowed to opt out. But Catholics have been denied an opt-out. Instead, the Obama administration is forcing Catholics to violate their religious conscience.

This is not the United States of America that I know. Religious tolerance has been a bedrock principle of the American Government for almost 240 years. It's one of the reasons why the United States came to exist in the first place. The First Amendment states that Americans have the right to religious freedom. Religious freedom isn't just the ability to believe and worship as we see fit. It's also our right to keep other beliefs from being imposed on us. The Federal Government has respected those rights by being sensitive, by creating tolerant policies regarding our military service, our tax policies and even our airport screenings.

American Catholics are not asking for special rights. We're asking for equal rights. I am proudly pro-life, and I will stand here to defend the rights of the unborn. But this isn't about abortion. This isn't a question of when life begins. This is about the fundamental rights of all Americans, as spelled out in our founding documents. And this decision by the Obama administration is a devastating blow against the freedom of religion.
It's one thing for the Federal Government to try to take over our health care system, and we can all debate the merits of such legislation. But I think we can all agree, no matter on what side of the aisle we stand, that the right to freely express our religious beliefs--and, more importantly, not have other beliefs forced upon us--is a core value of this country. It is nonnegotiable.

Good people of all faiths should be outraged by this decision. If this administration can trample on the beliefs and rights of the American Catholics, those of other religions should ask, are we next?

Yesterday, I read in The New York Times that legal scholars say the American Constitution is old and outdated, that it isn't relevant in the modern world. Now, as this administration ignores our most treasured values--not religious values, but American values--our Constitution could not be more relevant. The first words of the American Bill of Rights are: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

They're first, and they're first for a reason. The United States of America has long been a place of religious freedom. It's one of the things that separates us from foreign countries. Just as the Federal Government should not endorse a religion, it should not punish a religion, either. All religions must be treated equally. They must be respected. That's the American way. Today, Catholics all across the United States feel like outsiders. They feel as if their government has betrayed them.

Catholic leaders, including three bishops that lead Catholics in my district, have clearly said they cannot and will not comply with this unjust decision by the Obama administration. No one should have to choose between their God and their government. And no one, especially a government founded on religious freedom, should force them to.

The decision by this administration to make Catholics violate their most basic principles is a violation of the most basic American principle. I strongly condemn the Obama administration for this outrageous overreach of Federal authority; and I strongly encourage the administration to rescind this unfair, un-American policy. If the Obama administration can take away this most basic American value for 80 million Catholics, who's next?


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