.- Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has introduced a bill to repeal regulations issued by the Obama administration that many faith-based organizations say would force them to buy health insurance plans that violate their consciences.
“The Obama Administration’s obsession with forcing mandates on the American people has now reached a new low by violating the conscience rights and religious liberties of our people,” Rubio said in a Jan. 31 statement.
Rubio also criticized the administration for “forcing religious entities to abandon their beliefs.”
He described his bill, titled “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2012,” as “a common sense bill that simply says the government can’t force religious organizations to abandon the fundamental tenets of their faith because the government says so.”
On Jan. 20, the Department of Health and Human Services finalized a “preventative services” mandate that would require employers to purchase health insurance plans that cover sterilization and contraception, including some abortion-causing drugs.
The mandate includes a religious exemption, but it only applies to organizations that exist for the purpose of inculcating religious values and limit their service and employment primarily to members of their own faith.
The limited scope of the exemption means that most religiously-affiliated ministries and groups will not qualify for it.
Rubio introduced his bill on Jan. 31 “to provide religious conscience protections for individuals and organizations.”
The legislation observes that the mandate’s “absurdly narrow exemption,” which is “unprecedented in Federal law,” will exclude thousands of “charities, hospitals, schools or soup kitchens that hire or serve individuals who do not share their religious tenets.”
It points out that “religious freedom and liberty of conscience are inalienable rights protected by the Declaration of Independence and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
Rubio’s bill also notes that the Department of Health and Human Services refused to broaden the religious exemption to the mandate “despite receiving thousands of comments protesting” against its narrow scope.
If the bill became law, it will prevent any regulations issued under the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act from requiring “any individual or entity” to provide coverage or information on contraception or sterilization if that individual or entity is opposed to doing so “on the basis of religious belief.”
It also prohibits the imposition of a fine, penalty or other punishment on individuals or entities that make a religiously-based decision not to purchase such coverage.