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Public Statements

Freedom of Conscience

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. PITTS. Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the gentleman from Nebraska (Mr. Fortenberry) for his outstanding leadership on this issue that we're discussing tonight, the right of conscience. And I come tonight to the floor with alarm over how this administration is trampling on our First Amendment rights.

Freedom of assembly means that Americans can come together to petition the government, but the IRS has targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny, throwing up roadblocks to their organization.

Freedom of the press means that journalists can work on stories without government interference, but the Justice Department subpoenaed multiple telephone numbers for the Associated Press and investigated a FOX News journalist as a ``coconspirator.''

Freedom of religion means that the government does not get to tell you to violate your beliefs, but ObamaCare is forcing even explicitly religious employers to provide services they have moral objections to.

Our freedoms are clearly under assault by government bureaucrats who claim that they know what is best for all Americans. Over 60 organizations around the country, nonprofits and businesses, are suing the Federal Government to protect their rights.

One of those businesses is located in my district, in Lancaster County, Conestoga Wood Specialties of East Earl, Pennsylvania. For nearly 40 years, this family-owned business has made high-quality doors and wood components for kitchen cabinets. They provide over 950 quality jobs in my district. The owners have provided good health insurance that comports with their Mennonite beliefs for their employees, but now they are being coerced into providing government-approved health care, required to pay for products that include abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization.

Anthony Hahn, President and CEO of Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation, said this:

Being told that we must provide a health plan that includes a provision that violates the Christian beliefs of our family and the Christian values that our company was founded on is deeply troubling. Forcing Americans to surrender longstanding, deeply held principles in order to own and run a business is not merely troubling but unnecessary and unconstitutional.

And they've gone to court over this.

Americans should not have to sacrifice their religious rights when they enter the marketplace. ObamaCare would fine Conestoga Wood Specialties up to $36,500 per employee per year--$34 million a year for not providing government-approved insurance, but only about $2 million for not providing any insurance at all. This is madness. Clearly, this law is out of control.

Conestoga and many others are fighting for their rights in court, but here in Congress, we too have an obligation to defend the Constitution.

The Founding Fathers established a Bill of Rights because they knew that the government would always be tempted to abuse its power. Democratic elections do not protect the rights of unpopular minorities. In fact, all too often an unbound democracy becomes a tyranny of the majority.

The bureaucrats at the HHS may feel that they know what is best for all Americans, but being an American means the freedom to decide on your own, to let your convictions guide your life. What kind of Nation will we be when the IRS decides who gets to assemble, when the Department of Justice decides who reports the news, and when HHS decides what religious beliefs are worthy of First Amendment protection?

I'm not a Catholic. I'm not a Mennonite. We don't share the same ideas about what is morally objectionable on everything, but I do not believe that my ideals should be forced on them. Under ObamaCare, we can't choose our doctor; we can't choose our health insurance plan. Now we lose our First Amendment rights.

At one time Pennsylvania was perhaps the only place in the world where people could freely practice their religious beliefs without fear of persecution. In a world where people were killing each other over theology, William Penn established a safe harbor in our colony, and Penn's once radical idea became the foundation for our Nation's concept of religious freedom.

The actions of the HHS remind us that our rights are not guaranteed. We must stand up and protect them. We must continually demand that the government respect that which has been granted to us by God. And I'm proud to stand with my colleagues tonight in defense of religious freedom, to stand with my constituents at Conestoga Wood Specialties.

We should pass the Health Care Conscience Rights Act and make it clear that this House of Representatives will not stand by while minority religious beliefs are under attack. What a sad day for America when our fundamental rights like religious freedom and freedom of conscience are under attack by the heavy hand of government. We must pass this bill.


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