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Guest column/Defending against mandates

February 19, 2012
By U.S. REP. BILL JOHNSON , The Herald-Star

The Constitution of the United States is brilliant in its simplicity. In fact, you can read the entire document in less than half an hour. Why is it so brilliant? Because it places control of the government in the hands of the governed, and it makes America a beacon of freedom and liberty around the world. It is, after all, the foundation upon which American Exceptionalism is built. At its core, the Constitution guarantees certain basic human rights to Americans that our Founding Fathers believed were essential to a democratic government and a free people. Among those rights is the right to religious freedom.

It is this most basic right of religious freedom that is being challenged by President Barack Obama's Department of Health and Human Services.

Like many Americans, I opposed the president's new health care law, often referred to as "Obamacare." In addition to the enormous cost of the legislation, it set the stage for the government to control an entire industry and, with it, very personal decisions that we make as individuals. But, Obamacare is also proof that when the government grows larger, personal liberty and freedoms are reduced.

There's no denying that America is experiencing just how this new law will result in a loss of our individual religious freedoms. In this new health care law, the president's Department of Health and Human Services mandated that nearly all insurance plans must cover contraceptive and sterilization methods and the morning-after abortion pill, regardless of an individual's religious convictions. As a result, organizations like the Catholic Church, which employ thousands of people through their schools, hospitals, social services agencies and charities, will face thousands of dollars in fines and could be shut down if they refuse to provide their employees such coverage even though the federal mandate goes directly against their religious beliefs and teachings.

That is wrong.

On Feb. 10, Obama announced that he would "change" this birth control mandate. This "change" is nothing more than political theater. The president announced that religious employers would not have to pay for contraceptives, but the insurance companies would have to pick up the tab for them. But, who is paying for the employee health insurance coverage? The religious employer is footing the bill. The insurance companies are not going to eat the cost. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops even came out against this Obama's proposed "change" which does nothing to protect religious liberty.

Today, one in six patients in the United States is cared for in a Catholic hospital. Catholic schools educate millions of our children every year. Catholic charities donate millions of dollars every year in efforts to make a positive difference in America. Why punish these organizations for their beliefs, along with the millions of people who rely on and benefit from their work? Such institutions are part of the moral fabric of our communities. It would be outrageous for the federal government to force them to close their doors because they refuse to coerce thousands of employees to accept a subsidized government insurance plan that violates their religious beliefs, including the coverage of abortions.

Bishop George Murry of the Diocese of Youngstown calls this move an "assault on religious liberty." Monsignor Kurt Kemo of the Diocese of Steubenville says "we cannot - we will not - comply with this unjust law. People of faith cannot be made second class citizens."

This is not a partisan issue and, it is more than simply an issue of religious freedom. This is a violation of the most fundamental rights guaranteed to each American under our Constitution - our First Amendment rights.

It's clear where the Catholic Church stands on this issue, and even though I am of the Protestant faith, I proudly stand with the 77 million Catholics in America in opposition to this misguided and dangerous policy. And, I am hopeful that Republicans and Democrats, Americans from all walks of life, those who practice their faith and those who don't, will come together as Americans to oppose it as well.

(Johnson, R-Marietta, represents Ohio's 6th Congressional District.)

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