Despite gallant and repeated efforts by Missouri Senator Roy Blunt, the U.S. Senate has refused to pass any legislation in 2012 to amend the federal health care law (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) to protect religious liberty and rights of conscience. At this time, it appears unlikely that Congress will pass the Respect for Rights of Conscience legislation (S. 1467 or H.R. 1179) this year. Senator Blunt has indicated he will wait until after the fall election; if there is a more favorable U.S. Senate at that time, then he will once again pursue his legislation.
Meanwhile, the so-called “accommodation” announced by President Obama on February 10, 2012, does not respect the rights of conscience of religious employers or others. The grave flaws in the President’s “accommodation” and the rule issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have been carefully analyzed by spokespersons for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB):
- Testimony, February 28, House Judiciary, Bishop William Lori, Bishop of Bridgeport, CT,
- Letter, March 2, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, President of USCCB
- Legal memorandum, March 7, Anthony Picarello, Associate General Secretary and General Counsel of the USCCB
Faced with the current impasse, what can be done? In Missouri the general assembly is pursuing passage of legislation that would place in state law a prohibition on government forcing employers or employees from paying for abortion drugs, contraceptives or sterilization procedures. The bills filed are: SB 749, sponsored by Senator John Lamping (R-Clayton); and, HB 1730, sponsored by State Representative Stanley Cox (R-Sedalia).
Some suggest it is futile to pass a state law because federal law supersedes state law. There are two responses to this objection, one related to legal considerations and the other to the value of educating citizens and calling them to action in defense of their religious liberties.
Federal law does supersede state law; however, federal courts may very well rule that this particular federal law is in violation of the U.S. Constitution. If this occurs, the new Missouri law will stand as good law and as an explicit affirmation of Missouri’s policy that religious liberty shall be protected.
Beyond the legal considerations, the process of seeking passage of a state law on religious liberty keeps this issue before Missouri citizens at a time when positive action by Congress seems unlikely. The state legislation serves as a focal point for organizing defense of religious liberty. If Governor Nixon signs SB 749 (or HB 1730) into law, this will send a powerful message to Congress that the states are not waiting on Congress to act in defense of religious liberty. Ultimately, protection of religious liberty will require the active involvement of citizens, which must start on the local and state level. We cannot and must not wait on Congress to protect religious liberty.
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