There are currently over 30 legal cases filed against the Department of Health and Human Services on account of its abortion-drug, sterilization, contraception mandate, representing almost 100 plaintiffs whose religious-freedom has been attacked by the introduction of the Obamacare regulation. The mandate was issued after the president’s assurance both that conscience would be respected and abortion would have nothing to do with his health-care legislation.
You’ll recall he made that conscience claim at the University of Notre Dame; the University of Notre Dame is now suing him to protect their freedom to live as they believe, practice what they preach. (And, yes, I have heard preaching on both religious freedom and contraception on the campus of the University of Notre Dame.)
In my syndicated column this week, I focus on the case of Tyndale House Publishers, a Protestant business that publishes Bibles and other Christian books, putting most of its profits into a charitable foundation.
Despite these lawsuits — the obvious burden the mandate puts on employers who have conscience objections to these services — President Obama’s Department of Justice has been pushing back against the small businessmen, in particular, who argue that they are protected by the First Amendment; not when you’ve decided to enter “the marketplace of commerce,” DOJ says.
And the president isn’t moving on this issue — on Friday he bragged, not for the first time, about the HHS mandate.
A lot of the media, and therefore many Americans are confused and think that there is no religious-freedom problem anymore, that the Obama administration fixed its attack on a longstanding bipartisan consensus protecting conscience rights. That’s not the case. And since when is religious freedom something we merely accommodate? Mark D. Taylor, president and CEO of Tyndale — a company his parents started when he was a child — talks with me about what brings him to court to protect his religious freedom.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: The Bible isn’t religious? Please explain.
MARK D. TAYLOR: Tyndale House Publishers was organized a half century ago for an explicitly religious purpose — to publish the Bible and other Christian publications, and direct the proceeds to ministry and charity. The government’s policy that publishing the Bible is not a religious activity is absurd and is disconnected from reality. Never before has the federal government had the nerve to insist that all for-profit businesses are purely secular and cannot have a religious purpose. Americans today clearly agree with America’s founders: The federal government’s bureaucrats are not qualified to decide what faith is, who the faithful are, and where and how that faith may be lived out.
LOPEZ: Isn’t this a frivolous lawsuit? Surely this is a mistake the Obama administration will fix.
TAYLOR: It is not a frivolous matter when Washington passes a law that penalizes the exercise of religious freedom with fines as high as $100 per employee per day. The Obama administration has not shown any respect for the constitutionally protected freedoms that we, as a Bible publisher, had enjoyed until now. If they honored the Constitution and federal law, which is all we’re asking, our suit would not have been necessary.
LOPEZ: Has a business like Tyndale ever been part of any compromise talk?
TAYLOR: Tyndale has not been part of any discussion of this issue with the administration.
LOPEZ: Tyndale’s a business, you can deal with the fines, can’t you, if you insist on violating this new mandate — which effects you now, doesn’t it?
TAYLOR: Our reading of the law is that the mandate became effective for Tyndale House on Oct. 1, which was the first day of our new health-care plan year. Out of our religious conscience we have chosen not to comply with aspects of the mandate that promote abortion-inducing pills. But no organization could “deal with” the crippling, draconian financial and legal penalties on faith that this mandate imposes. That is why we need relief in court.
LOPEZ: Does the ruling against Frank O’Brien a week ago Friday, where the judge announced that the HHS mandated coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization is not a religious-liberty violation to a private business owner Frank O’Brien because he “is not prevented from keeping the Sabbath, from providing a religious upbringing for his children, or from participating in a religious ritual such as communion. Instead, plaintiffs remain free to exercise their religion, by not using contraceptives and by discouraging employees from using contraceptives”?
TAYLOR: This just another example of the Obama administration trying to confine faith behind four walls on Sunday and drive faith underground at all other times. A Denver federal judge decided in July that the Supreme Court and federal law protect people from harsh fines and penalties for exercising their religious views in the midst of society, including when they run an organization or business. The Obama administration is simply wrong to argue that one’s faith may only be exercised in private or in churches. We are confident that courts, all the way to the Supreme Court, will uphold and affirm our God-given religious freedom.
LOPEZ: Are you surprised we’re not hearing more objections to this mandate in the mainstream media?
TAYLOR: No, I’m not surprised. I would expect the mainstream media to be supportive of the mandate. But whatever the mainstream media thinks, Americans don’t want politicians and bureaucrats deciding how, when and how often Americans may live according to our faith.
LOPEZ: Are you surprised the Obama administration has been waging a little mini-campaign to insist it does respect religious liberty?
TAYLOR:: I’m not familiar with this mini-campaign. But the administration is probably trying to create a smokescreen to obscure what they are doing with this mandate and in the many other areas it is attacking our fundamental freedoms.
LOPEZ: Can this end well for religious liberty in the courts? Should it have to be in the courts? Must it be at this point?
TAYLOR: Tyndale was left with no alternative but to go to court. The law does not give any religious-freedom exemption to faith-based operations like Tyndale. Instead, it imposes crushing fines for employers who are doing nothing more than following their consciences against abortion-inducing pills. The government is supposed to promote conscience protection, not attack it. The best solution is for Congress or the administration to respect the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by eliminating the abortion-pill mandate. But if they refuse to do their duty, we hope the courts will rule that the mandate is unlawful.
LOPEZ: What might you hope every American voter considers when it comes to the situation the likes of Tyndale finds itself in?
TAYLOR: According to the Declaration of Independence, the role of government is to secure for the people those freedoms endowed to us by our Creator. The Bill of Rights enumerates many of those freedoms, including religious liberty. I would hope voters would evaluate whether the present administration is defending freedom or trampling on it.