Boehner: Feds Have Not Violated Religious Freedom Like This in 220 Years

By Elizabeth Harrington | March 1, 2012 | 7:48pm EST

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) (AP Photo)

( - House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the new Health and Human Services regulation that will require all health-care plans in the United States to cover sterilization and all FDA-approved contraceptives, including those that cause abortions, regulation that would force all health insurers to offer abortifacients, violates religious freedom in a way that has never before occurred in the history of the country.

The regulation, promulgated under Obamcare, would force Catholics to buy and/or provide coverage for things the Catholic Church teaches are morally wrong.

I think it’s important for us to win this issue,” Boehner said at a Capitol press briefing.  “The government, our government, for 220 years has respected the religious views of the American people.  And for all of this time there’s been an exception for those churches and other groups to protect the religious beliefs that they believe in.”

“And that’s being violated here,” he said.

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“I’ve been trying to take this out of the political realm and get it into a position where we can continue to protect the American people’s right to their own religious views,” he said.  “And so that’s the -- there are a lot of ways to do that.  There’s one over in the Senate, we’ve got a couple of ideas in the House, but it’s a matter of how we do we proceed?”

When asked to clarify what he meant by winning the issue, Boehner said, “It’s important that we continue to protect the religious beliefs of the American people from their government.  And their government encroaching in this arena has not happened in 220 years and it should not happen in this case.”

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and President Barack Obama. (AP Photo)

Boehner said he would wait to see the fate of Senator Roy Blunt’s (R-Mo.) amendment before deciding how to proceed in the House.  (The amendment, which would have placed conscience protection rights in Obamacare, failed in the Senate on a 51-48 vote on Thursday).

The House Speaker also said it is “an important part of my job” to stand up for the Constitution.

“I believe that standing up for the Constitution, standing up for people’s protection under the law and under the Constitution to practice their faith as they like, this is an important part of my job,” he said.  “I’m trying to find a way, frankly, to get a bipartisan agreement to solve this problem.”

The issue arose out of the HHS mandate that was finalized on Jan. 20.  As part of Obamacare, the rule requires all health insurers to offer sterilizations and FDA-approved contraceptives, including those that induce abortion, such as the drug “Ella,”  free of charge.

The mandate sparked nationwide opposition from religious organizations, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), 2,500 Protestant and evangelical leaders, the Orthodox bishops, Orthodox Jewish leaders, and at least 158 members of Congress who say it violates the free exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment.

USCCB President and Archbishop of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan signed on to a Feb. 27 letter entitled “Unacceptable,” which  was also signed by more than 500 university presidents, academics and religious leaders.

Plan B, emergency contraceptive. (AP Photo)

The letter, in part states, “The simple fact is that the Obama administration is compelling religious people and institutions who are employers to purchase a health insurance contract that provides abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization. This is a grave violation of religious freedom and cannot stand. It is an insult to the intelligence of Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other people of faith and conscience to imagine that they will accept an assault on their religious liberty if only it is covered up by a cheap accounting trick. … The administration still fails to understand that institutions that employ and serve others of different or no faith are still engaged in a religious mission and, as such, enjoy the protections of the First Amendment.”

Said Boehner on Thursday, “This is about protecting American’s religious beliefs. We’ve done it for 220 years.  It’s part of our Constitution.  And the government’s moving in a direction that would force some Americans to violate their religious beliefs.”

“This is wrong.  And we want to stop it,” he said.

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