On Thursday, the Health and Human Services Department announced the opening of the “Conscience And Religious Freedom Division.”
According to a report from Axios, the new division will “serve to protect health professionals who choose not to provide medical care to patients for religious or moral reasons.”
With the many legal cases concerning religious freedom, including the several challenges to the Obamacare contraceptive mandate and the recently decided Trinity Luther v. Comer Supreme Court case, it is easy to see why an agency dedicated to protecting religious freedom could be needed.
The new office, established one day before the annual March for Life in Washington, will investigate complaints against health workers who object to abortions, sex-change operations, fertility treatments for same-sex couples or other medical services at odds with their beliefs.
During the announcement, Town Hall reports a number of members of Congress were available to field questions on the new branch of the HHS.
According to the report, the group included House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senator James Lankford, and Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler.
The Republican group defended the need for the division by citing “specific religious freedom violations that occurred under the Obama administration,” Town Hall reports.
“We face today a time of rising religious persecution,” McCarthy told those gathered, “it’s not violent, it’s not done in the name of God but it is a new orthodoxy and it is an intolerant dissent. Nuns have been forced to put aside their lives of service of the elderly and sit and have to go to court humbly requesting that they not be required to pay for practices that end the lives of children.”
McCarthy was referencing the Little Sisters of the Poor’s ongoing lawsuit against the Obamacare contraceptive mandate which they declined to comply with due to religious objections.
He also mentioned the current case facing the Supreme Court of pregnancy centers “forced against their deepest beliefs to advertise for an abortion industry bankrolled by the state.”
McCarthy said he has “high hopes that violations of the Weldon amendment and the arrogance of the California abortion mandate AB775 will be investigated and resolved quickly.” He was referencing a 2014 mandate by the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) requiring insurers to cover elective abortions, something he told Townhall in December that he’s working with the administration to address.
“In the past this office sent the message, now is not the time for freedom, it is time for you to conform. What a difference one year makes,” he observed.
Senator Lankford similarly remarked that “religious intolerance is a personal choice not a legal requirement,” according to the report.
Here’s more from Lankford and Hartzler:
He cited another recent Supreme Court case Trinity Luther v. Comer which, he said, “reaffirmed this basic fact that when the government or the state or local or federal government partners with a religious institution there’s not a requirement for that institution or that agency to set aside their religious faith. They’re American citizens the same as people who do not choose to practice religious faith.”
Rep. Hartzler said “the need for this division has become acutely apparent.” She brought up the case of Cathy DeCarlo, formerly a nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, who was forced to choose between assisting with an abortion or losing her job.
Hatzler added that she is still pushing her colleagues to pass her Conscience Protection Act which would “forbid discrimination against a health care provider ‘based on the provider’s refusal to be involved in, or provide coverage for, abortion.'”
Thursday’s announcement seems to double down on the Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty Executive Order Trump signed last year.
In the order, Trump said, “It shall be the policy of the executive branch to vigorously enforce Federal law’s robust protections for religious freedom. The Founders envisioned a Nation in which religious voices and views were integral to a vibrant public square, and in which religious people and institutions were free to practice their faith without fear of discrimination or retaliation by the Federal Government.”
“For that reason, the United States Constitution enshrines and protects the fundamental right to religious liberty as Americans’ first freedom. Federal law protects the freedom of Americans and their organizations to exercise religion and participate fully in civic life without undue interference by the Federal Government,” the order continued. “The executive branch will honor and enforce those protections.”
The order also commanded the Secretary of the Health and Human Services to “consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate.”