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Public Statements

Executive Session

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. ALEXANDER. Madam President, whenever any Americans' religious liberty is infringed, every American should be concerned. Religious liberty is a part of the American character. Before our Constitution was adopted, religious freedom was a part of the American character. It was the reason the first Europeans settled on our shores. It was a great source of the American Revolution.

My Scotch-Irish Presbyterian ancestors came here to escape religious persecution from two churches, and when they came here they objected to paying taxes to support another church.

So our very foundation as a country has in it the guarantees of religious freedom.

That is why after the States created our Constitution, the people came back and said: Wait a minute. You forgot something. You forgot the Bill of Rights.

The Bill of Rights begins with guarantees of religious liberty. They are emblazoned on the wall at the Newseum at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 6th, the guarantees of liberty. They were spoken by President Roosevelt when he talked about World War II and why we were fighting that great war.

So whenever any American's religious liberty is trampled upon, every American should be concerned.

That is why I am so disappointed that Senate Democrats are proposing to carve a giant hole out of America's religious freedom.

This is very different than what has consistently been the attitude in this body. Twenty-one years ago Congress voted to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, an act which reflects the American character as well as any other act that Congress has passed. It created a very high hurdle for government to burden a person's religious beliefs.

That legislation says that if the government is going to take an action that creates a burden on a person's faith, the government must prove there is a compelling national interest and that burden must be as light as possible.

That bill passed nearly unanimously. It became law nearly unanimously, with support from many in the Senate today, many on the other side of the aisle who are supporting this carve-out for religious freedom.

When he signed the bill into law, President Bill Clinton was eloquent and said:

We all have a shared desire here to protect perhaps the most precious of all American liberties, religious freedom.

President Clinton continues:

Usually the signing of legislation by a President is a ministerial act, often a quiet ending to a turbulent legislative process. Today this event assumes a more majestic quality because of our ability together to affirm the historic role that people of faith have played in the history of this country and the constitutional protections those who profess and express their faith have always demanded and cherished.

But here we are debating a Democratic proposal to gut the law President Clinton was describing and require Americans who own businesses to provide insurance coverage for any health care item or service that is required by Federal law or regulation, whether or not it violates the employer's sincere religious beliefs.

So what has changed?

On June 30, the Supreme Court of the United States found that the law meant what Congress and the President said it did when it was enacted.

They held that the Federal Government could not order the owners of a closely held corporation to violate the basic tenets of their faith. The company in question in this case, Hobby Lobby--and having been a law student, I know that over time this will be known in law schools across the country as the great case of Hobby Lobby because of its importance and because of its name--is owned by the Green family, who make their faith central to their business. They close their stores on Sunday. They refuse to engage in profitable transactions that facilitate or promote alcohol use. They contribute profits to Christian missionaries and ministries.

No one doubts those are sincerely held religious beliefs. The Green family offers health insurance which covers 16 of 20 forms of contraception. It does not cover four forms of contraception that prevent implantation of the embryo but employees are free to purchase those four forms themselves.

The company in no way interferes with its employees' lives. It does not tell them what to do with their bodies. It does not tell them how to live their lives. It simply does not offer in the company's insurance plan, coverage for the four forms of contraception that violate the faith of the owners of the business.

Obamacare regulations tried to mandate 20 forms of contraception, but recognizing this violated the beliefs of those who believe in life at conception, they created a carve-out for several organizations, Catholic hospitals for example. They could have created a similar carve-out for closely held companies, but they did not.

Instead, the Green family and others were forced to defend their freedoms in court, which fortunately ruled that the family was entitled to protection from the government's mandates under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This ought to have been a victory for everyone if it is true in our country that when any American's religious freedom is upheld, all of us benefit.

In 1993, the passage of the legislation was hailed as a momentous achievement of religious freedom. The New York Times editorialized in support of it. My friend Senator Reid from Nevada--now the majority leader--said:

I am proud to be a cosponsor of this important legislation. I congratulate the authors and the committee for creating a fine bill.

The distinguished Senator from New York, Mr. Schumer--then a Member of the House and the lead Democratic sponsor--said: ``This is a good moment for those of us who believe in the flower of religious freedom that so adorns America. ..... ''

But here we are debating a bill that would fundamentally undermine that very act spoken of so eloquently by the Democratic leaders of Congress and by the Democratic President of the United States.

What has changed? If they are successful, an American who opens a business in this country will know that he or she will forfeit their right to religious freedom. That is not consistent with the American character. That is not the American way.

Why would Democrats who felt so strongly about this in 1993 feel so differently today? Why would they be willing to do such damage to the cause of religious freedom they so ardently proclaim? Because the Democrats ``believe they have a powerful campaign weapon'' in this issue, according to a report in Politico.

The Democrats charge that under the Supreme Court decision, an employer's personal views can interfere with women's access to essential health care services.

They say that under this decision corporations can limit their employees' health care options and restrict their freedoms. That is not true. It is patently false. It is absurd. It is wrong.

In the words of the Washington Post's nonpartisan Fact Checker Glenn Kessler:

Nothing in the ruling allows a company to stop a woman from getting or filling a prescription for contraceptives .....

Second, the Fact Checker says:

Democrats need to be more careful in their language about the ruling. All too often, lawmakers leap to conclusions that are not warranted by the facts at hand. Simply put, the court ruling does not outlaw contraceptives, does not allow bosses to prevent women from seeking birth control and does not take away a person's religious freedom.

Today, women have the same rights they did before Obamacare--at least in terms of religious freedom. The Supreme Court decision did nothing to change or alter a woman's ability to access birth control or other contraceptive care.

Hobby Lobby's insurance today already covers 16 of 20 forms of contraception for the company's employees. A Hobby Lobby employee who wishes to use a drug or device not covered by the company's insurance is in no way prohibited from purchasing it. Nothing in the Hobby Lobby decision prevents a woman from making her own decisions about contraception. The only effect of the decision is that certain employers cannot be forced to include it in their insurance coverage against their religious objections.

The Supreme Court decision covered certain closely held, for-profit companies--meaning they are controlled by five or fewer individuals--where the owners have sincere religious beliefs. The Court's decision does not mean all Americans of faith who own businesses and ask for religious exemption from a general law will receive that exemption.

The Court's decision does not mean employers will be able to use the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a reason to refuse to cover critical health services, such as vaccines, blood transfusions, and HIV treatment. In fact, such fears were raised by opponents of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act before it became law in 1993. The Democrats didn't believe those objections then, and they shouldn't believe them now because 21 years later these doomsday predictions have not come true. Courts are well-equipped to dispel spurious or frivolous claims.

I think the Democrats know all of this. I think they are just trying to win an election.

This Supreme Court decision was about individual freedoms that do not disappear if you decide to open a business. It was not about contraceptive rights.

What is really happening is my friends on the other side of the aisle are trying to change the subject. They want to talk about health care, but they don't want to talk about Obamacare and what it is doing to the women of this country. Let me tell a story that gives an example of what it is that really concerns me.

First, what concerns me is the destruction of anyone's religious freedom.

While we are talking about women and health care, let me talk about Emilie of Lawrenceburg, TN. She is 39 years old. She came to see me. She has lupus. Under Tennessee's laws, she had an insurance policy granted by something called CoverTN. It was created by our then-Democratic Governor and Blue Cross. It gave her the policy she needed at a cost of about $50 a month. When Obamacare arrived, it canceled Emilie's policy. She went on the exchange to try to replace it, according to Washington's wisdom.

This is Emilie. This is a real woman in Tennessee who is really hurt by the Obamacare law. We should be talking about her. This is what she wrote to me:

I cannot keep my current plan because it doesn't meet the standards of coverage. This alone is a travesty. CoverTN has been a lifeline [for me]. ..... With the discontinuation of CoverTN, I am being forced to purchase a plan through the Exchange. ..... My insurance premiums alone will increase a staggering 410 percent. My out-of-pocket expenses will increase by more than $6,000 a year--that includes subsidies. Please help me understand how this is ``affordable.''

Here is an American woman who has been hurt by ObamaCare. She lost her policy--a policy that she could afford, that fit her health care needs and her budget--but all of the wise people in Washington said: This is the policy you need. So she got the policy Obamacare says she should have, and her insurance premiums went up to approximately $400 a month, and she got an insurance policy that does not fit her budget and does not fit her health care needs. She is the one who has been hurt.

Unfortunately, Emilie is not the only one experiencing rate shock. Millions of Americans are losing their insurance plans. They are being forced to buy new plans, many of them with higher premiums, many with higher deductibles, many of them with coinsurance.

Let me talk about a Tennessee woman whose name is Carol, a single mom with a son starting at Austin Peay University in the fall. She is an office administrator in an office that used to have CoverTN insurance that cost less than $100 a month in premiums and covered all of her health care needs. Carol said:

Now, thanks to Obamacare, I must pay over $300 per month [compared to $100 a month] in insurance premiums for a policy that has a $2,500 deductible and a $4,000 out of pocket limit.

If we want to talk about a war on women, let's talk about the war on Emilie and Carol in Tennessee and millions of other women who are hurt by ObamaCare. Carol earns too much to qualify for a subsidy, so now she puts a big chunk of her income toward her premiums--such a big chunk that now she can't afford to help pay for her son's education.

These are the kinds of stories all of us hear from people who are being harmed by Obamacare. These are the kinds of stories our friends on the other side don't want repeated, so they even go so far as to bring up carving big chunks out of America's character by trampling on religious freedom--the freedom that is talked about in the First Amendment.

We have proposals to help Americans like Carol and Americans like Emilie. We have offered them on the Senate floor repeatedly since 2010 when the ObamaCare law was passed. They would move our country in a different direction toward health care as rapidly and as responsibly as we could go--a direction toward more freedom, more choices, and lower costs for Emilie and Carol and for millions of women and millions of men and millions of younger people across this country.

Our bills would allow Americans to keep more of their insurance plans, as the President promised.

Our bills would allow people to buy insurance in another State if it fits their budget and fits their needs. Let's say Emilie, who has lupus, finds a policy regulated in Kentucky that fits her budget and fits her needs. We would allow Emilie to buy that.

We would allow small business employers to combine purchasing power with other employers and offer their employees lower cost insurance. More freedom, more choices, lower costs.

We would allow Americans to buy a major medical plan to insure themselves against a catastrophe--today, some Americans can, but under Obamacare all Americans cannot--buy a major medical plan to insure against catastrophe--that is what a lot Americans would like to do--and then open a health savings account that is expanded to pay for everyday health expenses. More freedom, more choices, lower costs.

We would like to repair the damage Obamacare has done. We would like to prevent future damage. Republicans want to move in a different direction that provides more freedom, more choices, lower costs. We trust Americans to make decisions for themselves. That is the American way. That is what we believe in. Religious freedom and health care freedom--that is the American way.

Mr. President, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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