Yesterday, Department of Health and Human Services released new regulations on ObamaCare. Where the old regulations forced health plans for Catholic nuns to pay for birth control pills, the new regulations allow religious employers and employers with religious objection to contraception to not provide that coverage in health plans.
What slipped under the radar was a pair of letters issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on how Department of Justice will handle religious liberty cases. The directions implements President Trump’s executive order on religious liberty. It is game changing.
The preface, alone, moves the federal government in correct direction. The Obama administration had focused on creating “freedom of worship” as the standard for the nation. Under this cribbed interpretation, your right to worship would not be at jeopardy but you were in legal jeopardy if you actually acted upon the beliefs central to that worship. So a Catholic hospital could be forced to perform abortions. A religious-based adoption agency would be forced to place children in morally objectionable homes. I’m going to list a few of the guiding principles, but you really should take time to read the whole letter.
The free exercise of religion includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one’s religious beliefs.
The freedom of religion extends to persons and organizations.
Americans do not give up their freedom of religion by participating in the marketplace, partaking of the public square, or interacting with government.
Government may not restrict acts or abstentions because of the beliefs they display.
Government may not offically favor or disfavor particular religious groups.
Bovernment may not interfere with the autonomy of a religious organization.
Religious employers are entitled to employ only persons whose beliefs and conduct are consistent with the employers’ religious precepts.
As a general matter, the federal government may not condition receipt of a federal grant or contract on the effective relinquishment of a religious organization’s hiring exemptions or attributes of its religious character.
This is all great stuff and it is a shame that the Attorney General has to spell out in detail what the First Amendment takes for granted. The left is portraying this all as a freedom to discriminate. This is nonsense and the complaining is based solely upon the way the left as used the special rights they see as being owed to homosexuals, etc., as a battering ram to drive religion and religious people and groups out public life. In the words of Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput:
Evil talks about tolerance only when it’s weak. When it gains the upper hand, its vanity always requires the destruction of the good and the innocent, because the example of good and innocent lives is an ongoing witness against it. So it always has been. So it always will be.
This letter is accompanied by a policy directive that tells US attorneys to ensure the position they take in any case adheres to these principles, to the extent of changing the position taken by Justice under Obama, and it directs that all proposed federal rules be screened for adherence to these principles.
A final note, back in April a lot of anti-Trumpers were insisting that the Trump administration was abandoning religious liberty. At that time, the Trump administration was delaying one of the ObamaCare contraception mandate cases and the anti-Trumpers were calling the delay a retreat. I, and several others, disagreed about what was happening. I don’t think Trump is a particularly religious guy and I have my doubts that religion will ever play a significant role in his life in the future having played none in the past. But I don’t care. Emperor Constantine was only baptized shortly before his death but his patronage of Christianity was invaluable. I don’t need a pastor as president, just a president who doesn’t treat religion with hostility.
This letter by the attorney general is a major victory for religious freedom, and if that is important to you, no matter how you feel about President Trump, you should give some credit where it is due.