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Q&A on Religious Liberty

Q: What’s behind growing support in Congress for the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act?

A: Lawmakers are responding to a decision by the Obama Administration to disregard the freedom of conscience supported by the First Amendment. In issuing a federal rule to implement the 2010 health care law, the Administration said religious-affiliated organizations must cover certain preventive services free of charge, including contraception and sterilization procedures, or be subject to substantial monetary penalties. Public alarm about the January announcement forced the Administration to modify plans. In practical terms, the affront to religious freedom remains even in the scaled-back rule. The issue is whether religious-affiliated institutions will be able to practice their faith without government intrusion.

Q: How would the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act change things?

A: The legislation would amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the 2010 health care law, to protect rights of conscience with regard to requirements for coverage of specific products and services. It reaffirms the conviction articulated by Thomas Jefferson in 1809, when he told New London Methodists that “[n]o provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.” The principle is part of our nation’s tradition and has been codified in state and federal laws, including previous health care laws. Support remains strong today, with 202 members of the House of Representatives and 38 Senators having sponsored and co-sponsored the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. The President’s attempt to ignore the freedom of religion guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, which he tried to remedy only as an afterthought and under pressure, is unconstitutional and unconscionable.

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