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Public Statements

Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WEBB. Mr. President, I wish to say a few words today about the amendment that is being called the Blunt amendment, the purpose of which I will read from the amendment, to amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, to provide rights of conscience with regard to requirements for coverage of specific items and services.

I oppose this amendment, and I wish to be very clear today as to why I oppose this amendment. This is not a bill that attempts to address the necessary divide between church and state.

Let me say that a little more specifically. This is not an amendment that addresses the necessary divide between the establishment of religion or the free exercise thereof as outlined in the first amendment of our Constitution, which is a concept I care deeply about.

This amendment, by definition, attempts to widen the restrictions on our laws from the necessary divide between church and state into the unknown and often indefinable provinces of an individual's personal definition of conscience. The amendment is clear on this point. It is a preamble in which it lists its findings, talks repeatedly about the rights of conscience, not the separation of church and state. It invokes Thomas Jefferson's view of the rights of conscience against the enterprise of civil authority. It addresses the purported flaws of the current health care law in terms of governmental infringement on the rights of conscience of insurers, purchasers of insurance, planned sponsors, beneficiaries, and other stakeholders. It then mandates that the right to provide, purchase, or enroll in health care coverage must be consistent with the religious beliefs or the moral convictions of these stakeholders.

Again, let me be clear: This language goes well beyond the constitutional requirement of separation of church and state into the area of legislative discretion. Quite frankly, it would be the same thing as Congress saying that not only should religious establishments be exempted from taxation under the doctrine of separation of church and state, but also that anyone who has a moral objection that they can define to paying taxes should not be required to pay them either.

There is a place for this type of conduct in our legal framework. It has a long history. It is called civil disobedience. The act of civil disobedience is protected by our Constitution, but the ramifications are not. Unless there are clear constitutional protections, legal accountability remains.

The effect of this amendment on its face would be that any stakeholder could decide to deny health care benefits to any individual on the very loose definition that to provide such care somehow would violate a personal definition of one's moral convictions. In other words, any provider could potentially deny a wide range of benefits to anybody.

This is a vaguely drafted and potentially harmful amendment. It is not about protecting religious institutions or protecting the clear objective and understandable parameters of religious belief. It should not be approved.

I yield the floor.


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