By Elizabeth Harrington
A group of freshmen congressmen on Wednesday said that a regulation issued under Obamacare by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has taken freedom of religion away from Americans.
The regulation that requires health plans to offer sterilizations, contraceptives, and abortifacients free of charge became effective today, Aug. 1. It has been unanimously denounced by the Catholic bishops of the United States as "unjust and illegal mandate" that forces Catholic individuals, business owners and institutions to act against the teachings of their faith.
"We're still home of the brave, but we're not the land of the free anymore," said Rep. Billy Long (R.-Mo.)
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives could stop this regulation that Republican members and the Catholic Church have called an attack on religious liberty by prohibiting funding for it in the next continuing resolution to fund the government after Sept. 30. However, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and other House Republicans have indicated that they will fund the implementation of the regulation.
Despite his apparent intention to fund it, Boehner himself has described the regulation as "an unambiguous attack on religious freedom in our country."
On Tuesday, Rep. Long was joined at the U.S. Capitol in denouncing the regulation by Representatives Mike Kelly (R.-Pa.), Austin Scott (R-Ga.), Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), Sandy Adams (R-Fla.), Alan Nunnelee (R-Miss.), Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.), Ann Marie Buerkle (R-N.Y.), and Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) in vowing to stand against the regulation.
"It's outrageous that this administration believes it's within their power to force people to violate their right of religion if it interferes with this administration's agenda," said Nunnelee. "It should disturb people of all faiths, or for that matter people of no faith at all, that President Obama has such a low opinion of the First Amendment that he would trample on these rights."
At least 154 members of Congress have already denounced the HHS "preventive services" regulation that mandates that nearly all health insurance plans in the United States must offer sterilizations, contraceptives, and abortion-inducing drugs free of charge.
Under the rule, businesses and individuals who buy health insurance will subsidize those products and services even if they are opposed to them on religious grounds. Businesses and individuals who do not purchase health insurance will have to pay a penalty tax to the federal government.
The Catholic Church and other denominations have denounced the HHS rule as a violation of religious freedom as defined in the First Amendment, and lawsuits have been filed against the measure.
On Wednesday, Rep. Long argued that with the implementation of the HHS rule, America is no longer the "land of the free."
Long said, "America 2012. Land of the free, home of the brave. Are we still the land of the free and home of the brave? Let's examine that for just a minute. I know we're the home of the brave because if we walk off that House floor five days a week, three or four days, they'll be a wounded warrior sitting there just like the one that was there yesterday."
"He had no right arm, he had no left arm except for an artificial arm and an artificial hand, he was proud to shake my hand, with his artificial hand to show me how it worked," Long said. "He had no legs below the thighs. His wife was standing next to him with less than a 1-year-old child in her hands."
"You don't have to worry about the brave," he said. "We're still home of the brave, but we're not the land of the free anymore. And we need to get that straight.
"When you're not free to practice religious freedom in this country, what in the world have we come to?" said Long. "Seriously, goodness gracious."
"Religious freedom is one of the bedrock principles of our Democracy," said Quayle. "And yet today that freedom is under attack because, as this mandate goes into effect, Americans are going to be forced to act against the principles of their faith. And this coercion by taxation that this president seems to like must stop and must come to an end now."
The HHS mandate was finalized in February and is part of the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"). Under Obamacare, businesses with more than 50 full-time employees must provide their employees with health-care coverage or face a fine of about $2,000 per worker per year.
If a business chooses to not comply with the HHS mandate by continuing to provide their workers with insurance that does not cover the specified preventive services, they would be subject, under the health care law, to a penalty of about $100 per day per worker.
Rep. Buerkle said a Catholic Hospital in her district (25th of New York) will face higher insurance costs due to the enforcement of the regulation.
"I spoke to the administrator, she said that they are a self-insured plan," Buerkle said of the unnamed hospital. "This HHS rule, because they will not violate their conscience and their Catholic teachings, they will move from self-insured to dealing directly with an insurance company."
"That increases the rates of premiums, that decreases choice for the employees of that hospital," she said. "That's what happens when the federal government forgets what its job is."
"The federal government was put in place to protect our rights, not to grant those rights," Buerkle added.
Rep. Kelly said August 1 would now forever be ingrained in American history.
"I know in your mind you can think of the times that America was attacked: one is December 7th, that's the Pearl Harbor date," he said. "The other is September 11th, and that's the day of the terrorist attack."
"I want you to remember August 1, 2012, the attack on our religious freedom," said Kelly. "That is a date that will live in infamy along with those other dates."
"The question is if not us, who, if not now, when?" Kelly said. "It is our turn, there is no option, we have to stand up now and defend our Constitution."