The earliest English settlers in America came in search of riches. They hoped to find hordes of gold and silver just as the Spanish had done. While it quickly became apparent that precious metals would not be easy to find in North America, other groups of settlers soon discovered that there was something far more valuable here--liberty.
The Pilgrim separatists, Puritans, Catholics, Quakers, Mennonites, and many more groups who had been persecuted in Europe found America to be a place where they could freely practice their religion. Even odd groups like the Shakers and the Ephrata Cloister sect found a home in the colonies. This freedom was so central to American culture, that the first amendment to the Constitution permanently established that the government could not prohibit the free exercise of religion.
The government does not have the right to dictate to religion. Time and time again, the courts have prevented legislative and administrative overreach. In fact, just a few weeks ago the Supreme Court handed down a 9-0 decision stating that the government cannot determine who is and who is not a religious employee.
The courts are not the sole authority responsible for upholding the Constitution. Members of the legislative and executive branches both swear to protect and defend our founding document. When the President oversteps his authority, Congress has just as much responsibility to check his power.
The President's health care law clearly runs counter to the Constitution. We saw it first in the individual mandate to purchase insurance; now, we are seeing another violation in rules recently handed down by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius ordered that all health insurance plans have to cover a wide range of contraceptive and sterilization services and that these services have to be provided without a copayment. These services are forbidden by Catholic doctrine. The rule only has a very narrow religious exemption. While churches would be exempt, religious schools, hospitals, and other charities would all be forced to comply or face fines and sanctions.
Since before the founding of our republic, religious institutions have cared for the poor and the sick. For many, this is not just a nice thing to do, it is commanded by their religion. But now, organizations are being asked to make an impossible choice between doing their religious duty or violating their conscience.
Certainly, for many Americans contraception is not controversial. However, many Americans do not finding eating pork, digesting caffeine, or consuming alcohol to be controversial either. Here in America, it is not the government's role to determine doctrine for a particular religion. In fact, the opposite is true. The government has a responsibility to protect minority religious views.
Charitable religious organizations are an integral part of our society. Catholic hospitals alone care for more than 5 million Americans each year. There are many other religious organizations that provide meals, daycare, housing, and numerous other services. Again, these groups act out of a religious obligation. In a manner of speaking, the government would be forcing an organization to decide which commandment to follow.
While I have opposed the President's health care bill and continue to fight for full repeal, even supporters of the law are shocked at the rule. Former Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA) voted for the bill. Today she has regrets, saying: "I would have never voted for the final version of the bill if I expected the Obama Administration to force Catholic hospitals and Catholic colleges and universities to pay for contraception."
Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Joe Lieberman (D-CT) have all questioned the wisdom of the rule. Even President Obama's handpicked director of the Democratic National Committee and Virginia Senate candidate Tim Kaine stated his opposition.
This is not an attack on women's health or on contraception. The federal government already spends billions of dollars to provide free or low cost contraceptives. This is a question of whether the government has the power to force people to violate their convictions.
I am working with my colleagues in the House and Senate to eliminate these rules and provide strong protection for minority religious views. Better yet, we should get rid of the President's health care law. We don't need a government takeover of health care or religious doctrine.