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Public Statements

Religious Liberties

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. JOHANNS. Mr. President, I rise today to comment on the developments of the past few weeks which, in my view, have been incredibly tragic but maybe, on the other hand, reassuring. On the one hand, it is tragic that our own government launched an attack on first amendment rights. The President launched this assault unapologetically in the black-and-white print of a rule that clearly restricts religious liberties. It says contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs must be provided free of charge to women. What the President did not anticipate by his rule was the backlash it would generate.

It is reassuring, on the other hand, to know that Americans will make their voices heard when their constitutional rights are being trampled.

For the first time in many years, people of many different faiths, as well as the defenders of the Constitution, have found a unifying rallying cry. They are sending the message that enough is enough; it is time to stop this administration's march into every single facet of our lives. At issue is one of the very basic rights in this country. It is one of the basic rights this country was founded to protect. It is the right to freely exercise religion--a right this President pledged to uphold when taking the oath of office.

Many Americans were lulled into complacency in 2009 by promises that apparently the President did not intend to uphold. Back then I came to the Senate floor to address this identical issue. In the thick of the very contentious health care debate, I urged my pro-life colleagues and the pro-life community to stand up against the health care bill that was being considered here in the Senate. I pointed out that the Hyde amendment, which prohibits taxpayer dollars from being used for abortion, was absolutely absent in the bill, something that now appears to be no accident whatsoever. On that day I shared the National Right to Life's very real concerns that the bill ``tries to conceal that unpopular reality with layers of contrived definitions and hollow bookkeeping requirements.'' Unfortunately, though, empty promises that the bill respected life were enough to convince my presumably pro-life colleagues to support the bill. After all, they had heard the promises straight from the President's mouth.

Remember when the President told Americans ``under our plan, no Federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and Federal conscience laws will remain in place.'' Congress ignored the warnings, charged forward, blurry eyed, voting in the middle of the night, and passed the health care bill that we all now know violates the very conscience rights the President himself by his own words promised to protect.

As the law is being put into place, we are truly heading into uncharted waters for this Nation. On Friday, after weeks of criticism, the President announced a so-called compromise. We were told by his Chief of Staff that it will be that way or it will be the highway. So what is the compromise? It would still force every plan to offer free contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs, even plans offered by religious organizations with deeply held religious beliefs.

The President claims religious employers with objections won't technically be required to offer the coverage because insurance companies will be forced to offer it free. What? Are we, as Americans, expected to believe that the many religious organizations paying the employer's share of the health care costs are not paying for these services? What kind of accounting gimmick is that? What kind of sleight of hand is that?

The President is blinded by his ideology. This fight is about religious and moral beliefs. It is not about accounting. What we have witnessed this past week is another attempt to hide the unpopular reality with layers of misleading rhetoric and hollowed promises. The truth? The truth is that many individuals who object to contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs as a matter of religious principle will still have to provide them and pay for them. Don't fool yourself; they are not going to be free. Drug companies don't walk in and give away free drugs. Pharmacists don't dispense them free. Of course, the cost will be passed along to every employer and every American in the form of premiums that we pay. Calling these services free is flat wrong. There is a cost and, unfortunately, it is a high one at that. They come at the cost of our religious freedoms.

The administration's position is that it can force insurers to provide contraceptive coverage for ``free'' because the drugs are cheaper than the cost of being pregnant. Our government said that at the very highest level. That logic is unprecedented and it is downright disturbing. Who is to say that in days to come the administration won't order health plans to cover abortion free on the premise that it is cheaper than the cost of prenatal care, birth, and caring for human life? The same twisted logic could apply for physician-assisted suicide and a whole array of controversial procedures.

Many out there may try to refute this by repeating the President's claim that the law prohibits mandated abortions, but that same claim promised to protect the religious liberties he is now forcing many to violate. Well, many of us will not sit idly by and watch this unprecedented effort, and I am not alone. The President should listen to the country. The gimmicks of the 2009 bill may have put some to sleep. This time Americans are not being fooled. Americans of all faiths, all beliefs, of different views on a whole variety of topics share a love for their Constitution and the rights embodied in that Constitution. Well, they are awake now and their eyes are fully open.

As a Catholic myself, I could not be more proud of the Catholic bishops for standing strongly. Their statement rejecting the President's smoke-and-mirrors compromise is compelling and it is spot on. The bishop said:

..... today's proposal continues to involve needless government intrusion into the internal governance of religious institutions and to threaten government coercion of religious people ..... to violate their most deeply held convictions.

And they go on to say:

In a Nation dedicated to religious liberty as its first and its founding principle, we should not be limited to negotiating within these parameters. The only complete solution ..... is for HHS to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services.

Yes, we were told by the President's Chief of Staff negotiating is over, it will now be our way or the highway. Well, the bishops responded. The bishops called the President's attempt to appease them unacceptable. Yes, America has been awakened and now Congress must act on their objections.
There is legislation waiting to be debated that would protect the religious liberties granted in our Constitution. The legislation introduced by Senator Roy Blunt holds President Obama to his promises. This legislation continues the 200-year tradition of this great Nation ensuring those who believe in the sanctity of life are not forced to have a hand in someone else's death. It protects conscience rights across the board. There is a bottom line and the bottom line is this: If President Obama is allowed to dictate to religious organizations what beliefs they will be allowed to hold or not to hold, then this country we all love will be a much different place and it will be a much different place for our children and grandchildren.

If the President succeeds, then our Constitution is no longer the defining document of a great Nation. Well, we do know the position of this administration, and I stand here today to categorically reject it.

I yield the floor, and I note the absence of a quorum.

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