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July 2, 2013

Charade Continues with Obamacare’s HHS Mandate

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In the Obama administration’s latest Friday info-dump, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today released its final rule outlining a so-called accommodation for its coercive Obamacare mandate.

Like the administration’s multiple previous attempts to “fix” the mandate, this final rule doesn’t provide any workable or adequate solutions to the mandate’s trampling on Americans’ fundamental freedoms.

At the renewal of health-plan years, employers still will be forced to facilitate coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization — regardless of religious or moral objection to one or more of these practices.

Since it introduced the HHS mandate in 2011, the Obama administration repeatedly has brought out the best in bureaucratic theatrics. Through press conference promises, campaign absurdities, and hundreds of pages of complicated regulatory jargon, the administration has relied on a campaign of smoke and mirrors to hide the mandate’s assault on religious liberty.

There’s only one problem: Courts aren’t buying the act. Today, more than 200 plaintiffs are involved in more than 60 lawsuits over the Obamacare mandate. Of the 28 lawsuits in which rulings have touched on the merits of the cases, federal judges have awarded 21 temporary halts because of the rule’s serious burden on the free exercise of Americans’ first freedom.

The administration’s latest regulatory antics to advance its anti-conscience mandate aren’t likely to get a standing ovation from federal judges either.

The so-called “accommodation” does not adequately address the mandate’s trampling on religious freedom and will still force religious non-profit organizations to abide by the mandate.

Only formal houses of worship and their integrated auxiliaries (a church-run soup kitchen, for example) are truly exempt. Countless religious employers — among them charities, hospitals, and schools — still will be forced to facilitate coverage of mandated drugs and services regardless of moral or religious objection.

These are the people who form the backbone of civil society. These are the people, motivated by deeply held beliefs, who get up every day to care for the sick, educate the next generation, and provide food, shelter and counseling for the most vulnerable Americans. Yet, these are the people whose religious liberty the administration refuses to adequately protect.

As a consolation prize for fitting the administration’s narrow requirements to receive an inadequate “accommodation,” HHS also announced that some of these Good Samaritans will have until January 1, 2014 to figure out how to get over their beliefs and get in line with the mandate.

For everyone else? The Obama administration remains unrelenting in its assault on fundamental freedoms.

Family businesses are given no protection whatsoever from the coercive mandate. Why? Because the administration argues that families who build businesses, create jobs, and grow the economy lose their right to religious freedom when they walk in the doors of their workplaces.

The HHS mandate forces these employers into an impossible situation: Violate their beliefs, face crippling fines of up to $100 per employee per day, or drop health care coverage altogether —  harming their employees and risking an annual fine of roughly $2,000 per employee per year after 2014.

Practically speaking, by the administration’s reasoning, faith is restricted to churches, synagogues, and mosques. Step outside the four walls of your home or place of worship and protection of your religious freedom ends.

Such picking and choosing of who gets to live out their faith in how they act and work isn’t consistent with the protection of religious freedom enshrined in our founding and defended in laws such as the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Try as it might to masquerade the mandate with today’s new rule, the Obama administration isn’t likely to convince the courts that it is serious about protecting our freedoms.

It could take the Supreme Court to ring down the curtain on the show, but this charade is in its final act.

— Sarah Torre is a policy analyst in the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation.

First appeared in National Review Online

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