by Rep. Darrell Issa
Let’s make something perfectly clear: I support a woman’s right to use contraceptives. I don’t question whether women and men have a right to use contraception — I believe they do. This is not about religious freedom versus contraception but about religious freedom versus unconstitutional mandates.
When Congress granted broad powers and authority to the Obama administration through the 2010 health care overhaul, it was never explained that the administration would use those powers to launch an assault on religious freedom.
In an unscripted but revealing moment, then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) infamously said Americans “cling to guns or religion … to explain their frustrations.” Four years later, actions taken by his administration have thrown our nation into a very fundamental debate about the proper role of government in our lives.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee recently convened the first Congressional hearing on the administration’s mandate that religious employers pay for abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilization procedures in their employee health care plans, despite the fact that some of these items and services violate the employers’ core religious teachings.
The committee heard from a Catholic, a Lutheran, a Baptist, a rabbi and university administrators united in their opposition to the administration’s mandate. These men and women spoke eloquently about their concerns, not because they share the same views about contraception or even abortion (they do not) but because they value their religious freedom, guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution.
It was the committee’s hope to engage in a robust debate about the First Amendment infringements created by the administration’s proposal. Unfortunately, Congressional Democrats directed by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) were more interested in political theater and decided to cast the hearing about something that it wasn’t.
Our nation’s founders believed so fervently in religious liberty that they established the First Amendment so people of all faiths could practice free from the fear of persecution or harassment.
As Democrats asked, “Where are the women?” 20 feet from them, Dr. Allison Garrett from Oklahoma Christian University and Dr. Laura Champion from Calvin College would explain their belief that this was an issue of religious freedom, not contraception.
“This debate is not about whether women have the right to obtain these drugs,” Garrett said. “Rather, this debate is about whether those who believe that contraceptives or abortifacients violate their religious convictions must pay for them. There is a vast difference between the right to make a purchase for oneself and requiring someone else to pay for it.”
According to Champion’s testimony, the issue is not about contraception because “contraception is not controversial at our school.”
The core issue we explored at the hearing was the federal government’s efforts to compel religious institutions to use their own money to pay for services that directly violate their religious teachings.
Given the purpose of this hearing, some of the theatrics and rhetoric from the left that followed had more to do with scoring partisan points than contributing to a constructive dialogue about the Constitution and basic freedoms.
For purported proponents of the First Amendment to cavalierly discard concerns about infringements of the protection to practice a faith freely is a disappointing, but not surprising, contradiction.
The smoke screen of the left’s efforts to distort the conversation is designed to mask the legitimacy of efforts to protect freedom of religion and conscience. This is not just a concern for one church or one faith, but one that affects all Americans who value their constitutional rights.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.