Holder: 1st Amendment Allows Gov't to Force Catholics to Buy Sterilization-Contraception-Abortion Insurance

Fred Lucas | February 28, 2012 | 4:43pm EST
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Attorney General Eric Holder testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011, before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in the arms trafficking investigation called Operation Fast and Furious. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

(CNSNews.com) - The Justice Department will defend against any legal challenge to the new Obama administration mandate to force employers to provide abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception, even if it goes against their conscience, Attorney General Eric Holder told a House subcommittee Tuesday.

The Department of Health and Human Services rule, part of Obamacare, violates the freedom of conscience for Catholics and other religious groups that expressed their objections to the mandate, opponents say. Already there is litigation asserting that the rule violates the First Amendment’s guarantee to free exercise of religion.

“I think I would respectfully disagree in the sense that I don’t think the rule that HHS promulgated was one that ran counter to the religious prohibitions that are contained in the First Amendment,” Holder said.

“That’s especially true looking at the compromise the president and Secretary [Kathleen] Sebelius put in place,” Holder told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies.

President Barack Obama announced a change to the original rule that would have technically allowed religious institutions such as Catholic hospitals or schools to get an exemption from paying for these drugs, but instead require insurance to provide it for “free.” That so-called compromise would still require religious institutions to pay for insurance that provides the “free” services.

Holder said he would be confident of the federal government’s case in court.

“To the extent that that action is challenged in court, I would expect that the Justice Department would defend what is in place, which would be that compromise,” Holder told the panel.

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The Becket Fund is representing Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic college in North Carolina, and Colorado Christian University, an evangelical college in Denver, in the cases against the Obama administration. The suits were filed in federal district court in Washington, D.C., and Denver respectively.

“It’s really an open and shut case,” Hannah Smith, senior counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told CNSNews.com earlier this month. “All religious faiths should be concerned, even religious faiths that don’t have doctrines regarding contraception. This is not about contraception. This is about the government coercing you to pay for something you don’t believe in.”

In additions to the constitutional questions, Smith said the suit will also reference the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton. The law’s intent is to prevent other laws that substantially burden a person’s constitutional right to free expression of religion.

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