Obama Proclaims Support for Religious Freedom -- Amid HHS Mandate Litigation

By Fred Lucas | January 16, 2013 | 4:32pm EST

FILE- President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks during the last news conference of his first term in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 14, 2013. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

(CNSNews.com) – In the midst of 44 lawsuits challenging the Obama administration’s mandate that every employer cover the cost of abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception, President Barack Obama issued a religious freedom proclamation on Wednesday.

The proclamation begins by saying, “Foremost among the rights Americans hold sacred is the freedom to worship as we choose.” But it does not talk about the free practice of religion, which plaintiffs are fighting to defend in litigation across the country.

“Because of the protections guaranteed by our Constitution, each of us has the right to practice our faith openly and as we choose,” Obama said in the proclamation. “As a free country, our story has been shaped by every language and enriched by every culture. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, Sikhs and non-believers. Our patchwork heritage is a strength we owe to our religious freedom.”

Jan. 16 marks Religious Freedom Day, which commemorates the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, written by Thomas Jefferson and advocated by James Madison when the two future presidents served in the Virginia Legislature. The president’s proclamation for Religious Freedom Day 2013 quoted the original declaration that said, “Almighty God hath created the mind free" and "all men shall be free to profess … their opinions in matters of religion.”

Obama's proclamation says: “Years later, our Founders looked to the Statute as a model when they enshrined the principle of religious liberty in the Bill of Rights.”

“Today, we also remember that religious liberty is not just an American right; it is a universal human right to be protected here at home and across the globe,” the proclamation says. “This freedom is an essential part of human dignity, and without it our world cannot know lasting peace.”

Last year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a regulation mandating that insurance cover the cost of abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception despite religious objections from Christian employers. Several Catholic dioceses, Christian colleges and private businesses -- notably Hobby Lobby -- are suing the federal government to block the mandate, asserting it violates the First Amendment guarantee to free practice of religion.

The president's proclamation was hypocritical, said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life group.

“Our religious liberty and rights of conscience have been threatened like never before under President Obama, who has mandated that employers must cover abortion-inducing drugs in their health care plans, regardless of their moral or religious objections,” Dannenfelser said in a statement.

“President Obama must first rescind his HHS mandate before making any proclamations on the subject – this is blatant hypocrisy.”

Another group, The Catholic Association, issued a statement Wednesday that said the president’s proclamation reduced religious freedom to freedom of worship, rather than the free exercise of religion.

“This distortion of our nation’s first freedom is the justification for the HHS mandate and the reason that 44 separate cases now have been brought against the federal government,” Maureen Ferguson, senior policy advisor for The Catholic Association said.

“The Constitution guarantees Americans the right to practice their faith 24 hours a day, seven days a week, whether at church, home, school or work.”

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