Weekly Column by Lamar Alexander: “Protecting Religious Freedom”

Posted on July 18, 2014

Recently, Senate Democrats attempted to infringe on Americans’ religious freedom by passing a bill that would undo protections provided under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This attempt was in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last month in the Hobby Lobby case, which ruled in favor of individual freedoms and religious liberty. It ought to have been a victory for everyone.

Twenty-one years ago, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which created a very high hurdle for government to burden an individual’s religious beliefs. It says that there must be a compelling national interest if the government is going to take an action that burdens a person’s faith, and that burden must be as light as possible. The law reflects our American character as well as any other law Congress has passed.

On June 30, the Supreme Court upheld this law and ruled that the federal government could not order the owners of a company to violate the basic tenets of their faith. The Hobby Lobby ruling is not about contraceptive rights, as Democrats claim. It is about an individual’s religious freedom. However, the Democrats attempted to get around this ruling by proposing a bill that would have carved a hole in the First Amendment. If it passed, it would have meant any American who opened a business in this country would have to forfeit their right to religious freedom.

The Democrats’ proposal was nothing more than an attempt to change the subject and avoid talking about how Obamacare is hurting American women. Obamacare regulations mandated that all private sector companies cover 20 forms of contraception in their health insurance policies, violating the religious beliefs of many. While there was a carve-out for some religious organizations, there was no carve-out for “closely held” companies, owned and directed by individuals or families with sincere religious beliefs. This led the Green family, who owns Hobby Lobby to defend their freedoms in court, and the Court ruled that RFRA protected them from being forced by government mandate to violate their religious views.

This ruling is not about limiting a woman’s health care options, but it instead confirms that our constitutional freedoms do not disappear for those Americans who decide to open a business. Rather than push legislation that burdens religious freedom and limits women’s choices, we should take our country in a different direction with health care policies that offer more freedoms, more choices, and lower costs. We trust Americans to make health care decisions for themselves because we believe in religious freedom and health care freedom. That is the American way.

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