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The Point Washington Update - January 30, 2013

In this edition of The Point:

Article/Commentary #1

January 28, 2013--IMBODY: Obama ‘freedom to worship’ assaults First Amendment

Freedom of religion not just for private expression
By Jonathan Imbody, vice president for govt. relations, Christian Medical Association

President Obama recently marked Religious Freedom Day by framing religious liberty as "the freedom to worship as we choose." If the president had not been restricting and attacking religious freedoms so egregiously, he might merit a pass for using "freedom to worship" as poor shorthand for religious liberty.

The First Amendment of our Constitution actually reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...." The constitutionally guaranteed free exercise of religion in America extends well beyond the freedom to worship; it includes the freedom to live out our conscientiously held beliefs.

Worship at its core is essentially a private and personal process, a communion between God and an individual. No government could restrict such worship, any more than it could monitor and censor every citizen's thoughts and prayers. Even forbidding individuals to worship together in public, which coercive communist governments like China's have done, cannot actually prevent individuals from worshiping God in private.

So a law that merely protected the freedom to worship would hardly be worth heralding in a presidential proclamation.

The free exercise of religion under the American Constitution, by contrast, includes the freedom to openly express, follow and live out our faith--not just in private but also in the public square--without government coercion, censorship or any other form of restriction.

The Constitution's framers concept of religious liberty included not merely the freedom to worship, but also the free exercise of conscience--carrying out one's moral beliefs with conviction and action.

As Thomas Jefferson asserted, "[O]ur rules can have authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God."1

James Madison expressed this understanding in his original amendment to the Constitution: "The civil rights of none, shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext infringed."2

To be fair, President Obama's statement eventually included a more expansive acknowledgement of religious freedom: "Because of the protections guaranteed by our Constitution, each of us has the right to practice our faith openly and as we choose."

Yet the record will show that the president's gilded rhetoric belies tarnished policies. The prioritization of the president's first statement--that religious freedom means simply freedom to worship--in fact parallels his policies. Those policies often violate not only the general principles of the First Amendment but also the more specific Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which provides that "Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion" and must take "the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest."

Obama administration actions to restrict or outright violate religious liberty include:

  • Gutting the only federal conscience regulation protecting the conscience rights of American healthcare professionals.
  • Issuing a coercive contraception and sterilization mandate that imposes the president's abortion ideology on all employers, exempting virtually only places of worship. The thousands of faith-based charities that actually exercise their faith and conscience beyond the four walls of their churches now face millions of dollars in fines by the Obama administration.
  • Arguing to the Supreme Court in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, against a religious institution in an attempt to restrict faith-based organizations' hiring rights. In a unanimous decision, even Mr. Obama's own appointees to the Court rejected the administration's radical arguments to restrict religious liberty.
  • Failing for months to aggressively advocate on behalf of pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen imprisoned, tortured and now on trial, facing possible execution by the Iranian government for simply living out and speaking about his Christian faith.

The first American congress enshrined religious liberty preeminently in the Bill of Rights. Many of those leaders and their fellow patriots who ratified the First Amendment had risked everything they owned and their very lives to win those freedoms. They also recognized that threatening one group’s freedoms, by either restricting or establishing a faith, threatens the freedoms of everyone.

Unless we act swiftly to protect current assaults on religious liberty--by reversing the administration's coercive policies through the courts, by passing conscience-protecting laws in Congress and by reeducating the culture on religious liberty, our First Amendment freedoms will become an empty proclamation.

Article #2

Excerpted from "'Roe v. Wade' about much more than abortion," by Kate Michelman (NARAL Pro-Choice America) and Carol Tracy (Women's Law Project), USA Today, January 22, 2013--Tuesday marks the 40th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, a milestone for women in America because this right to control our capacity to reproduce enhances our ability to participate fully in society. It helps ensure our privacy, our dignity and our health.

During the 2012 elections, women made their voices heard. In almost every instance where women's reproductive rights were on the ballot, freedom prevailed.

Last year, 19 states enacted 43 measures to limit abortion access. This was in addition to the 92 abortion restrictions enacted in 24 states in 2011. Twenty states restricted abortion coverage through the state health insurance exchanges mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

Currently, contraception can be barred from employer-based insurance coverage in eight states, and abstinence-only education remains the norm in most of our country. This fight against contraception reveals the hypocrisy of the anti-abortion groups: Their concern isn't protecting the unborn fetus; it's about controlling women's choices.

Technically, the core protections guaranteed by Roe v. Wade remain intact. However, those protections are eroding because of the constant onslaught by conservatives bent on undermining the rights of women. The goal of Roe v. Wade was to ensure a woman's right to control the most intimate aspect of her life. Without this right, women are unable to participate equally with men in the nation's social, political and economic life.

Commentary #2

CMA Vice President for Govt. Relations Jonathan Imbody: “Abortion advocates contend that without abortion on demand, which the Supreme Court imposed on all states 40 years ago through Roe v. Wade, 'women are unable to participate equally with men in the nation's social, political and economic life.' That would be news, of course, to the millions of women who have had children while also making meaningful contributions to society, politics and professional enterprises.

"Meanwhile, women who face financial and personal challenges during pregnancy and after giving birth are receiving financial, medical and practical help plus emotional and spiritual support from pregnancy centers around the country, such as those overseen by our friends at CareNet and Heartbeat International.

"Unlike billion-dollar abortion enterprises like Planned Parenthood that get half a billion in tax dollars a year while performing nearly a million abortions in three years,[i] these pregnancy centers provide compassionate and life-changing services through charitable contributions, devoted staff and volunteers who demonstrate love in action. Women are able to 'participate equally with men' as the young fathers learn--through pregnancy centers' education, counseling and mentoring--to share in the responsibility and fulfillment of bringing a new life into the world.

"With such safety net resources and a life-affirming perspective, surely we can all--women, men and children--live and thrive together."

[i] Based on Planned Parenthood’s annual report for fiscal year 2011-2012 showing that the organization has net assets exceeding $1.2 billion, received $542 million in taxpayer funding and performed 333,964 abortions during fiscal year 2011. Their previous annual reports show that the organization performed 329,445 abortions in 2010 and 332,278 abortions in 2009, bringing the total number of abortions in three years to nearly 1 million abortions.

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