Biden Administration Could Soon Force Employers to Violate Their Conscience

February 24, 2023
Department of Health Discrimination | First Liberty Institute

by Mia Gradick • 5 min read

The Biden administration is proposing new regulations that could force employers and business owners to violate their conscience and moral convictions.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently announced new rules regarding the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate. The proposed regulations would end Trump-era protections for employers with moral convictions. HHS officials estimate more than 100 employers and roughly 125,000 workers would be affected.

Ending protections for moral convictions is a direct attack on the freedom of conscience and could spell disaster for religious liberty. The proposed rule also suggests that the Biden administration is contemplating weakening religious protections for religious insurance providers. First Liberty previously examined how the Biden administration has used regulatory changes to target and harass religious citizens and organizations. This recent action inspires little confidence that HHS or other agencies would protect religious freedom in the future.

Religious leaders and groups across the country have spoken out against the rules. Some policy and legal experts are warning they could be illegal.

Terry Schilling, President of the American Principles Project, warned that it’s unclear how far the Biden administration could use the regulations against organizations that oppose contraception on moral grounds as opposed to religious grounds. He says, “it is frightening to consider how this rhetorical loophole could and likely will be abused.”

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, who leads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Religious Liberty, called the new rules “disheartening”. He said:

“It has been over a decade since the federal government first announced the HHS contraceptive mandate. The version of regulations that was issued in 2018 provided appropriately clear and robust protections for the exercise of religious beliefs and moral convictions, free from government punishment, and has been upheld by the Supreme Court. But HHS is now proposing to amend them yet again. It is past time for HHS to leave well enough alone in this regard.”

Melanie Israel, a policy analyst at the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Life, Religion, and Family at the Heritage Foundation, explained that this is an administrative attempt by the political Left to resist the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, which properly returned the power to regulate abortion back to the states. She told Fox News:

“We’ve seen a coordinated effort to resist the Dobbs decision. The Biden administration is coming back now and saying even though these moral exemptions were ruled as being procedurally sound at the Supreme Court, they are still going to take them away.”

It appears that this is the case. HHS said the quiet part out loud, writing in a press release that these changes are allegedly necessary because the “U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs has placed a heightened importance on access to contraceptive services nationwide.”

The record shows the administration has a particular disdain for the religious beliefs of Americans. It has repeatedly weaponized federal agencies to trample religious liberty. For example:

  • HHS revoked several important religious liberty protections and pursued regulations that could harm faith-based foster-care and adoption agencies, religious employers, charities, universities, schools, hospitals, and healthcare professionals.
  • HHS also put forward a rule commonly known as the “transgender mandate,” which would force millions of religious health care professionals and institutions to participate in abortions, sterilizations and “gender-transition” surgeries—all while allowing exceptions from such procedures for secular reasons. First Liberty delivered a compelling 42-page public comment explaining that this rule would be disastrous for Americans of faith in health care.

The freedom of conscience and religion are bedrock principles. They are constitutionally protected rights. Using the administrative state to target, harass, and punish people because of their beliefs is wrong, and in many cases it’s illegal and unconstitutional. This vindictive approach betrays our historic commitment to the idea that Americans should not be forced to violate their deeply held religious or moral convictions.

People of faith must remain vigilant. The Biden administration is consistently finding ways to target anyone who desires to live and work in a manner consistent with their faith. It’s increasingly clear that many of its policies have little to do with equality before the law. They have everything to do with coercing people of faith to conform to a radical ideology.

First Liberty will continue to keep you updated and informed about actions in our nation’s capital that impact you and your family’s religious liberty.

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