Lawmakers pen letter insisting on conscience protections

Rep John Flemmimg R LA and Rep Diane Black R Tenn CNA US Catholic News 3 4 13 Rep. John Flemmimg (R-La.) and Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.)

More than a dozen federal legislators have written to Congressional leaders calling for stronger conscience protections to be included in the upcoming government funding bills.

In a Feb. 27 letter, lawmakers criticized the "unprecedented attacks against the religious freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution," saying that the growing threat "demands immediate action."

"Nothing short of a full exemption for both non-profit and full-profit entities will satisfy the demands of the Constitution and common sense," they added.

The letter, written by Reps. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) and John Flemming (R-La.), was signed by 12 other members of the House of Representatives.

It was sent to Speaker of the House John Boehner (R.-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Congressmen Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) and Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), leaders of the committees on Appropriations and Labor, Health and Human Services, respectively.

The letter precedes the introduction of a bill to protect conscience rights in the House of Representatives.

Authors of the letter listed several examples of "egregious violations of long-standing civil rights and religious freedoms by the current Administration."

Warning that a disregard for religious beliefs is particularly prominent in the field of health care, they pointed to accounts of a nurse in New York who was "forced to take part in the gruesome dismemberment of a 22-week old unborn child."

The members of Congress also voiced concern over nurses at private universities and state-run clinics who have similarly been told "that they must assist in abortions that violate their deeply-held convictions."

They further criticized the threats to freedom of conscience posed by the current administration's mandate requiring employers to offer health insurance covering contraception, sterilization and some early abortion-inducing drugs.

More than 100 plaintiffs have sued over the regulation, including Catholic dioceses and charitable organizations, religious schools, individual states and private businesses.

The legislators voiced opposition to the mandate, noting the objections of companies such as Hobby Lobby, which is owned by a Christian family that seeks to put its faith into practice through its business.

Under the mandate, Hobby Lobby could be faced with fines of more than $1 million per day for adhering to Christian principles as it always has. Other individuals, self-insured organizations and small business owners face similar challenges.

The lawmakers asserted that the administration's proposal to amend the mandate in order to "accommodate" religious freedom offers "no remedy for individuals and small business owners, such as Hobby Lobby, and falls far short of addressing the concerns of religious non-profits and charities."

To solve these problems, the legislators suggested that the Appropriations Committee include conscience protections regarding insurance coverage in its legislation providing funding for the 2013 fiscal year.

In addition, they called for codified assurances that healthcare providers "may refuse to provide, refer, or train for abortion services" without penalty or discrimination.

"Congress cannot ignore the relentless assault on the First Amendment right to religious freedom," they stated, stressing that the nation's lawmakers "must act."

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