Healthcare mandate endangers religious freedom

After three days of arguments before the United States Supreme Court, the constitutional weaknesses of Obamacare are well known. Never before in our history has government sought to force Americans to buy certain products and services, let alone products and services contrary to their deeply held faith.
 

ADVERTISEMENT
One aspect of this policy that has gotten little attention is the fact that this mandate redefines what constitutes a religious institution and empowers unelected bureaucrats to enforce those definitions. If you are a Jewish charity and you hire non-Jews or your services help any non-Jews, you are no longer a religious institution according to this mandate. The same goes for Catholic and Protestant organizations. Religious organizations will no longer focus on who needs help or who may best serve their organization, but will be forced to conduct religious background checks on those they serve and hire. 
 
This radical policy change will be devastating to religious organizations who are working to provide critical services to Americans in need. These institutions may now be forced to pay huge fines, be subject to unelected bureaucrats’ defining their status, limiting their work, or even shutting them down altogether. This would not just impact the organizations themselves, but the millions of needy Americans whom these organizations serve. These destructive outcomes would go against the very principles we have lived by in our nation, and would be a crippling blow to the people of all faiths who are so reliant on this help.
 
As this debate has unfolded in recent months, the Obama administration and its political allies have tried to make this a debate about contraception. But as many polls have shown, the American people have seen right through this political spin. There is no debate over access to contraception. Those services are broadly available to consumers – even young girls – at minimal cost. We are not debating freedom to use birth control, we are debating the principle of religious freedom and whether religious institutions can be forced by government to pay for these products for others that violate their own religious beliefs.  
 
In the coming months, few debates will be as significant as the one over the new HHS mandate. Our Founding Fathers, said while drafting the Constitution, “If we are not free in our conscience and our practice of religion, all other freedoms are fragile.”
 
If today, they can invade our most fundamental freedom – to worship and live as our conscience dictates – what will be next?
 
We can’t afford to find out.
 
Nicholson, senior counsel at the law firm of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, was the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs from 2005-2007. Prior to serving in the Cabinet, Mr. Nicholson served as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See from 2001 to 2005. Nicholson is a founding member of the board of Conscience Cause.