By Bob Allen
Southern Baptists’ top public-policy spokesman pledged to oppose a bill on the fast track in the U.S. Senate to override the recent Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case and compel for-profit employers to cover the full range of contraception for their employees as required by the Affordable Care Act.
Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) co-authored the Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act as a legislative fix for rulings in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius that owners of closely held corporations can, as a matter of religious liberty, refuse to pay for four of the 20 FDA-approved forms of birth control that they believe cause abortion.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Dean of the Senate women and a senior member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee joined as an original co-sponsor.
The bill, being expedited by Senate Democrats and expected to bypass committee and go directly to the Senate floor as early as next week, would ban employers from refusing to cover any health coverage — including contraceptive coverage — guaranteed to their employees and dependents under federal law.
The bill specifically states that employers cannot refuse such coverage based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law passed by Congress in 1993 that forbids the government from enacting generally applicable laws that substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion unless there is a compelling state interest that is accomplished by the least-restrictive means.
The proposed legislation includes an exemption from the contraceptive coverage requirement for houses of worship and accommodation for religious nonprofits.
Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, wrote Speaker of the House John Boehner July 10 opposing any legislative challenges to RFRA that focus attention on for-profit companies.
“The IRS code does not, and should not, provide a toggle switch by which the government decides who may exercise religion and who may not,” Moore wrote. As the court rightly affirmed, American citizens do not forfeit their First Amendment rights simply because they engage in commerce.”
Moore urged Boehner (R-Ohio) to “leave intact the provisions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and resist all efforts to amend or repeal certain provisions of said legislation.”
“Southern Baptists will vigorously oppose any legislative efforts that attempt to grant or restrict the free exercise of religion based on a particular status in the tax code,” Moore pledged. “We trust you agree with our position and ask your office for continued vigilance on behalf of robust religious liberty protections. If I can be of assistance on this issue, please do not hesitate to contact me.”