February 21, 2012
200 Smith Street, Apt. 410
Sheridan, Wyoming 82801-3842
Thank you for contacting me regarding H.R. 1179, the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act of 2011. It is good to hear from you.
On August 3, 2011, the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a list of preventive services specific to women that most health plans in the United States will be required to provide without co-pays or out-of-pocket expenses. These mandatory preventive services include sterilization procedures as well as contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). There is a religious exemption to the mandate for health plan sponsors that are "religious employers." As originally drafted, however, "religious employer" was very narrowly defined as an employer that: "(1) has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a non-profit organization" under the Internal Revenue Code.
This exemption would not cover most employers, including numerous religious institutions in the United States who do not meet all of the requirements of the exemption. While the Obama Administration has offered a "compromise" under which non-exempted religious organizations could elect not to provide coverage, the insurance plan would still have to provide the coverage free of charge. This means religious organizations would still be indirectly subsidizing the coverage. Moreover, the mandate would remain in full force for other employers who nonetheless have conscience objections. This is but one example of how Obama Care has limited the freedom of American citizens. Congress needs to repeal Obama Care in its entirety and start over.
Because the chances for full repeal of Obama Care are still uncertain, I have also cosponsored the bipartisan Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R. 1179). This legislation is designed to preserve the status quo for conscience protections prior to the enactment of Obama Care. H.R. 1179 has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, where it awaits further consideration.
H.R. 1179 would permit (but not require) a health plan to decline coverage of specific items or services that are contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the plan issuer, sponsor, purchaser or beneficiary. To eliminate any financial incentive for health plans to feign conscience objections in order to escape coverage mandates, plans that opt out of coverage would not be able to lower the overall actuarial value of the plan.
H.R. 1179 also prohibits the federal government or health plans in Obama Care's health insurance exchanges from discriminating against medical providers who do not wish to provide or refer for items or services based on their religious beliefs or moral convictions. H.R. 1179 does not overturn state laws or even other federal laws in this area. It simply prevents Obama Care from being used as a tool for discriminating against medical providers based on their conscience objections.
Thank you again for taking the time to write to me. I value your input. If you haven't done so already, I would like to encourage you to visit my website at www.lummis.house.gov. There you can sign up to receive my newsletter, and have access to a wealth of other information. I won't flood your email box, but I will provide you with updates once in a while about activities in Washington that affect our lives in Wyoming. I hope you will sign up so that we can stay in close touch, and I look forward to seeing you in Wyoming.
Cynthia M. Lummis
Member of Congress
This conflict between Federal authorities and the U.S. Catholic Bishops over rules requiring employees of Catholic institutions such as universities and hospitals to have birth control pills supplied to them as part of their health insurance. Because of Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae, the contemporary Roman Catholic church has taken the stand that artificial birth control is immoral. The bishops therefore object to having the church be forced to supply it as part of their employees' health care packages. Yet, there are over 100,000+ exemptions regarding this for churches, but you republicans think you can make this a pivotal issue to ignite your sleeping right-winged anti-intellectual base.
The problem is that birth control is legal in the United States, and birth control pills are used for other purposes than contraception (in fact, contraception may not even be the purpose of the majority of prescriptions). Contrary to what Santorum alleges, the prescriptions are relatively expensive for poor and working class families.
Religious practices in the United States are trumped by secular law all the time when there is a conflict. Thus, Native Americans who believe in using peyote as part of their religious rituals were fired from their government jobs for doing so, and the US Supreme Court upheld it in 1990.
Likewise, traditionalist members of the Sikh religion believe that a man should avoid cutting his hair, and should bind it up in a turban. So what if an orthodox Sikh gets a job as a construction worker? He can't get a hard hat on over the turban. Does he have the right to forgo the hard hat on the construction site, so as to retain his turban? The question went to the US courts, and they said Sikhs have to wear hard hats. If a brick fell on the turban and killed the Sikh worker, his family could after all sue the construction company for negligence since it did not require him to wear a hard hat.
Or there are many instances in which Muslim religious laws and practices have been over-ruled in the United States by the courts. American law forbids Muslim-American men to take a second wife, something legal to them in many of their home countries. State law tends to award community property in cases of divorce instead of the much smaller payments men can make to divorced women in Islamic law, even if the couple have specified in their marriage contract that Muslim law (sharia) will govern these issues.
I don't think there is any question that Federal law, and state law, can trump Roman Catholic religious sentiments, just as they trump the religious sentiments and practices of other religious communities where issues of secular justice and equity are at stake.
The tradition of American progressive thought is tolerant of religion even while usually not being religious itself. In my view this attitude of tolerance is rooted in James Madison's theory of democracy, which is that it is best preserved by lively arguments among groups in the body politic that disagree with one another. Thus, while the Roman Catholic Church authorities adopted a negative stance toward modernity, cultural pluralism, and democracy in the nineteenth century, the Catholic community in the United States nevertheless contributed in important ways to modernity, cultural pluralism and democracy. Arguably, had the US been entirely Protestant, its law and practice would have evolved in a less pluralistic and tolerant direction.
A flourishing Catholic community contributed to social debates and so improved American democracy– witness Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement. And, the reformist theologians of the twentieth century, most of them European or Latin American, cultivated by American Catholics, made important contributions to our understanding– Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeckx, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Hans Kueng, Paulo Freire, and Gustavo Gutierrez. I would argue that Vatican II was an important event in American religious life across the board, not just for American Catholics. It is lack of appreciation of Madisonian conceptions of democracy of pluralism and checks and balances that led the late Christopher Hitchens to disregard altogether the enormous positive contribution of the Church, whether to the education of the poor and working classes or to teaching social justice. (By the way, the argument for democracy depending on diverse voices and vigorous debate is also an argument for the benefits for the US of the advent of Islam in American public life).
So, the arguments the bishops are making about the balance between conscience and the obligations of civil law should be welcomed by all Americans as part of our national dialectic.
President Obama is to be applauded for at least trying to find a compromise that doesn't dragoon Catholic institutions into betraying that conscience. In the end, of course, civil law must uphold equitable treatment of all women, and a satisfactory compromise may not be possible. We will be the better for having the debate, and attempting to find a modus vivendi.
What isn't helpful is to have loud-mouthed hypocrites who reject all the humane principles for which the Catholic Church stands getting on a high horse about a third-order teaching such as artificial birth control (on which the position of the church has changed over time, and may change again).