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The State of Religious Freedom in America
Posted by The Congressional Prayer Caucus | February 17, 2012

The state of religious freedom is at the forefront of national conversation as people across America attempt to process the stunning actions recently taken by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that pit religious freedom against compliance with a federal healthcare mandate, forcing people of faith to make a decision that infringes upon the religious freedom that our Founding Fathers robustly protected from our very beginning. Unfortunately, the HHS mandate is not an isolated incident; it is more of the same. Members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, a bipartisan group of 103 Members of the House of Representatives dedicated to preserving religious freedom in America, will continue standing up against burdens on these inherent freedoms.

In August 2011, HHS issued a mandate requiring that all health plans cover abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization at no cost to the patient, despite the fact that scores of people have religious and moral objections to these services. The mandate included an extremely narrow exemption for churches, but offered no protection to religious hospitals, schools, and charities, with the reason being that these entities often serve and employ individuals that do not share the groups’ religious beliefs. After receiving over 200,000 public comments on the mandate, HHS refused to broaden the religious exemption, instead merely giving religious institutions an extra year to comply. After a firestorm of opposition, President Obama announced on February 10, 2012 a “compromise” that purportedly will exempt religious organizations from directly covering the services, but will force the insurance companies they hire to cover them. To reiterate, employees at such organizations will still receive, by virtue of the insurance plans offered by their employers, services to which their employers have religious and moral objections. The President’s new arrangement—which may not be released in detail until August 2013—is really more of an accounting gimmick, as it will still ultimately require abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization to be provided to all employees of religious institutions at no cost. On February 15, 2012, HHS published in the Federal Register the finalized mandate and its narrow religious exemption, in their original form, and explained that the new “compromise” announced by the President would be fleshed out in the coming year and a half. This scenario leaves religious hospitals, schools, and charities still unprotected and uncertain of what the “accommodation” offered to them will look like.


What People are Saying about the Mandate

“The faithful for whom birth control is a matter of religious conviction haven’t been accommodated at all. They’ll merely have to keep two sets of accounting books.”
Immaculate Contraception
, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 13, 2012


“In a nation dedicated to religious liberty as its first and founding principle, we should not be limited to negotiating within these parameters. The only complete solution to this religious liberty problem is for HHS to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services.”
Bishops Renew Call to Legislative Action on Religious Liberty, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Feb. 10, 2012


“‘This thing is a distinction without a difference . . . . It’s an accounting gimmick or a fig leaf. It’s not a compromise.’”
Paul Ryan Denounces Obama’s Contraception Compromise as ‘Accounting Trick’, ABC News, Feb. 12, 2012


“A long time ago, the Catholic Church received a mandate from a higher authority . . . It is the mandate of Jesus Christ. . . . Catholic ministries for the needy are as blind to race, creed, class, and gender as Jesus Christ, their founder.  That any one of them, much less all of them, should be forced to choose between the Gospel mandate and the U.S. government’s health care mandate strikes at the very heart of the right to religious liberty on which our country was founded.”
The Jesus mandate vs. Obama’s mandate, Washington Post, Jan. 27, 2012


More of the Same: Hostility Towards People of Faith and Religious Institutions

In recent years, there have been numerous examples of a recurring hostility towards people wishing to exercise their constitutionally-protected religious freedoms. The HHS mandate is not an isolated incident; it is more of the same. The very existence of these occurrences, regardless of whether they are successfully reversed, shows a troubling pattern that has a chilling effect on people of faith, leaving them uncertain about exercising their religious freedoms.

In the Armed Services

Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office removes “God” from patch due to pressure from the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers. Rep. Randy Forbes led 35 of Members of Congress in sending a letter calling for reversal of the decision.

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center prohibits the use of religious items during visits. Officials reversed the policy after meeting with Members of the Prayer Caucus.

Air Force Academy (AFA) rescinds support for Operation Christmas Child, a Christian charity that sends gifts to impoverished children around the world, saying only Christian cadets should have been notified of the opportunity to participate. 

Air Force Chief of Staff prohibits commanders from notifying Airmen of Chaplain Corps programs.

Air Force suspends ethics briefing that includes Biblical and religious references following complaints from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. The briefing included Biblical and religious references, and had been used for over 20 years.

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) strips “God” from flag-folding ceremonies at veterans’ funerals. The VA backed off the ban shortly after Members sent a letter to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs requesting the policy’s reversal.

And Across America

Legislative bodies across the country are facing lawsuits for opening sessions with prayer. The Supreme Court recently declined to clarify the law on a county board’s practice of opening meetings with prayer. The lower court held the board’s prayer policy unconstitutional because it resulted in prayers that too often mentioned “Jesus.”

Vanderbilt bans religious student groups from requiring leaders to share the groups’ religious beliefs, and placed four religious student groups on provisional status for doing so.

New York City prohibits churches from using public school facilities; allows access to other community groups. Churches that have been meeting in NYC public schools for years held their final services on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012.

University dismisses counseling student from graduate program because of religious beliefs. A federal circuit court recently held that a university improperly dismissed a counseling student who had requested that a homosexual client be referred to another student because her religious beliefs precluded her from affirming same-sex relationships.

Officials remove “God” from certificates for flags flown over the U.S. Capitol. Capitol officials denied a young Eagle Scout’s request that a flag be flown over the Capitol on his grandfather’s behalf, and that the accompanying certificate reference “God.” The policy prohibiting “God” on the certificates was reversed after pressure from Members of the Prayer Caucus. Legislation was then introduced to prohibit future censorship.

References to “God” and faith excluded from U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. Historical religious references such as the national motto “In God We Trust” and the Pledge of Allegiance were excluded from the newly constructed Capitol Visitor Center. They were corrected after pressure from Members of the Prayer Caucus.
Comments
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  • Linda Templet commented on 2/18/2012
    And so what do we do about all the attacks on account of religion? To me it is so simple. We take a closer look at our First Amendment. Congress shall make no law respecting an ESTABLISHMENT OF religion. Where are our English professors? Isn't there any English professors who can rightly outline this sentence? What is the subject--the verb--the direct object--the indirect object? Outlining this sentence will give us the clear meaning and understanding to this word "respecting". Respecting is a preposistion meaning about, regarding, or concerning. Would the meaning change if the sentence read, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of morality--If I were to try to establish morality in this country could Congress make laws to stop me from establishing morality? Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of faith--Can Congress make laws to stop me from establishing faith? Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of prayer--Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of good and right--Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of virtue--Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of honesty---Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of Excellence. The truth hides within the sentence. All we need is one WISE man or woman to righty divide this sentence. It can't be any clearer than this to me. Since my dictionary tells me that respecting is a preposistion which means about, regarding, or concerning, the sentence reads--Congress shal make no LAW respecting, regarding, about or concerning an ESTABLISHMENT of religion. This is not MY interpretation of a sentence--this is what the word respecting means. Open up your dictionaries people. We are to establish religion or the belief of a SUPREME BEING because it is a DUTY which we owe to our Creator. Religion is not to be put under the Supreme LAWS of the land for religion is not a material object--religion is Spiritual. Our Constitution is the Supreme LAW of the LAND; it has no POWER over our Spiritual Supreme Being at all. Our Federal Government was not given the authority to have any control whatsoever over the freedom of religion; they were given the power to protect the good people and control the evils of our LAND. Congress can make no laws stopping religion; but they can surely make laws to stop these people from attacking on account of religion.
  • Linda Templet commented on 2/25/2012
    Today I read on FFRF's WEB--SITE about their 2012 student scholarship contests. This year the awards have increased to $3000 for first place essay--is this award CASH or is it a scholarship to be solely used for college? Now second place is $2000.00 cash SCHOLARSHIP--$1000 for third place, $500 for forth place, $300 for a NEWLY OFFERED fifth place and several $200 "HONORABLE MENTIONS" at the judges discretion. Now FFRF members are asked TO PUBLICIZE the essay competitions to their LOCAL high schools, colleges and universities. Is there something wrong with this? Well what do they want publized in our local high schools newspapers that most parents never see? They say, "Maybe you had a moment, experience or "epiphany" that LED TO OR AFFIRMED YOUR REJECTION OF RELIGION". Now I see nothing about rejection of religion in government--they want a rejection of religion period! How can our schools, colleges and universities allow these people to PUSH the SOUL REJECTION of religion into our childrens minds? Is this a form of genocide--the systematic and widespread EXTERMINATION or attempted extermination of an ENTIRE national, radical, RELIGIOUS or ethnic group? Maybe they are looking for a ETHNIC CLEANSING in a different way--the systematic ELIMINATION of an ethnic group or groups from a region or SOCIETY as by deportation, forced emigration, or GENOCIDE. These people are recruiting our young people's minds into thinking "there is NO GOD". They are not using physical force--they are using MENTAL force on our children and college students.They can legally get children to write columns and articles degrading and rejecting religion; the belief in a Spiritual Being, in a high school paper but the religious people have no power at all to promote religion in high schools because of this AN ESTABLISHMENT "OF" CLAUSE. These people are trying to get an establishment OF young children built up who can help them establish this thought of there is no god among our high school age CHILDREN. All one has to do is start something NEW and the kids will all flock together like sheep being led to the slaughter. These people are out to ELIMINATE any form of an establishment of religion. As a matter of fact they are saying to their members in a certain WAY. "Let us make children in our image AFTER our likeness". All they have to do is recruit all the children that they can who are getting close to voting age. It is all a MIND GAME!
  • Linda Templet commented on 3/1/2012
    International Law--Avalon Project concerning spiritual judgements--Can our secular courts use right judgment in judging Spiritual cases like a national day of prayer? How can we seperate church from state when state represents one body politic or moral person? LECTURE II. ITS AUTHORITY AND SANCTION. States, or bodies politic, are to be considered as moral persons, having a public will, capable and free to do right and wrong, inasmuch as they are collections of individuals, each of whom carries with him into the service of the community the same BINDING law of morality and RELIGION which ought to control his conduct in private life. The Law of Nations is a complex system, composed of various ingredients. It consists of general principles of right and justice, equally suitable to the government of individuals in a state of natural equality, and to the relations and conduct of nations; of a collection of usages, customs, and opinions, the growth of civilization and commerce; and of a code of positive law.
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