The Trump administration has announced two significant directives that will protect the religious liberty of all Americans—critical protections that will immediately benefit First Liberty Institute’s clients and aid many others.
SHELTER FROM CONTRACEPTION MANDATE
First, thanks to a new interim final rule announced by the Trump administration, clients of First Liberty may seek permanent exemption from the HHS Abortifacient Mandate.
Though the plain text of the Affordable Care Act contained only a requirement of “preventative care” for women, the HHS Abortifacient Mandate forced faith-based organizations to participate in health insurance plans that offered contraceptives –including abortion-inducing drugs, even if those organizations had sincere religious and moral objections.
The stakes were high. Penalties for violating the mandate were $100 per employee per day. For many faith-based organizations, this would have amounted to millions of dollars per year diverted away from their missions.
Jeremy Dys, Deputy General Counsel for First Liberty, issued the following statement regarding the HHS interim final rule:
“The new rule is a huge win for business and ministry leaders who, since 2013, have been fighting the government’s disregard for their religious beliefs and moral convictions. Now, they can lead their organizations in good conscience without choosing between their convictions and obeying the law.”
In July, First Liberty attorneys held an in-person, on-the-record meeting with officials from the Office of Management and Budget, Department of Labor, and Health and Human Services—agencies tasked with reviewing the rules related to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate.
First Liberty also sent a letter on behalf of its clients to the Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. The letter said, in part:
“Our religious organization clients desire an amicable resolution that would enable them to pursue their religious missions without being compelled to violate their conscience.”
Clients affected by the mandate, and given relief by this ruling, include faith-based retirement homes in multiple states; higher educational institutions; and Insight for Living, the international Bible-teaching ministry of Dr. Chuck Swindoll.
Read the entire letter to the Office of Management and Budget here.
PRIORITY GOES TO RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
Second, the Department of Justice also announced new religious liberty guidelines that build upon critical protections for religious liberty set down during the Clinton administration.
In announcing the guidelines, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrote, “Religious liberty is not merely a right to personal religious beliefs or even to worship in a sacred place. Except in the narrowest of circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law. Therefore, to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, religious observance should be reasonably accommodated in all government activity, including employment, contracting and programming.”
Hiram Sasser, General Counsel for First Liberty, put the Department of Justice guidelines into perspective—showing them to be supported by a recent history of bi-partisan support:
“Our country has a long history of protecting religious liberty. This guidance is part of a tradition of administrations helping to educate the public and officials regarding the laws that protect religious liberty, such as past guidance protecting religious liberty in public schools,” said Sasser. “Further, our nation has a longstanding bi-partisan commitment to religious liberty as evidenced by the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). We welcome President Trump’s fervent commitment to continue and expand this legacy of protecting religious liberty.”
The fight for religious liberty is hardly over, but after difficult years, rulings such as these are evidence that it is a seesaw battle. Friends of religious freedom must remain vigilant, yet encouraged, and always active in defense of our first freedom.
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