Chairman Smith: Religious liberty and freedom of conscience occupy an essential place among our unalienable rights. As James Madison observed, "the religion . . . of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right."
However, recent Obama administration policy decisions have shown a pattern of open hostility to religious organizations and religious liberty. The administration has denied federal grants to religious groups engaged in serving the poor and vulnerable. It has deleted religious organizations from the list of non-profit employers that qualify for federal student loan forgiveness programs.
And, the administration even argued before the Supreme Court that the federal government has a say in when a church can fire one of its religious ministers. All nine Justices rejected the argument.
The administration is treating the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion as nothing more than a privilege arbitrarily granted by the government.
Nowhere has this been more true than with the administration's decision to mandate that religious organizations pay for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations, and contraception that they find morally objectionable. Such a mandate cannot coexist within a free society.
The administration and its supporters have tried to cast this as a women's health issue to deflect attention away from the mandate's affect on religious freedom. They assert that religious groups attempt to "deny access" to drugs and services to which most people have no objection.
This assertion is false. Religious institutions do not seek to dictate what their employees can purchase or use; they seek to avoid a mandate that would force them to violate their religious convictions.
Others have pointed to the administration's so-called "accommodation" to argue that the mandate no longer infringes on religion. The accommodation is nothing more than an accounting gimmick.
Insurance companies aren't going to give the mandated drugs and services away for free; religious employers will still end up paying for them through higher premiums.
Moreover, religious employers continue to be obligated to provide their employees with insurance plans that facilitate actions that violate their tenets.
And, some religious organizations that self-insure, such as the Archdiocese of Washington, are required to pay for the mandated drugs and services directly.
The objection to the mandate is not about political party, ideology or eliminating women's access to abortion or contraception. It is about the respect for the religious liberty guaranteed to all Americans by the Constitution.
Thomas Jefferson's Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom proclaimed "that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical." This is exactly what the HHS mandate has done.
Religious employers that object to the mandate are compelled to either violate their sincerely held beliefs or be penalized. The federal government does not have the power to dictate what health services religious groups must provide.
The HHS mandate is a clear violation of religious freedom and a direct attack on the personally held views of many Americans. It is an erosion of religious freedoms.
If allowed to stand, the HHS mandate will set a dangerous precedent for future administrations that seek to impose their political views on churches and religious institutions.