- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 8, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Not so long ago, President Trump’s new guidelines for the Department of Health and Human Services for protecting freedom of religious faith would have been superfluous and unnecessary. A casual observer might have read them in puzzlement, as if the government had reaffirmed its opposition to robbery or murder.

But all that was before the Obama administration sought to bring those of religious faith to heel, ordering employers to pay for contraception devices and abortion-inducing drugs, even if it violated the conscience of employers. Under pressure, the Obama administration grudgingly exempted churches from its mandate, but employers affiliated with religious groups still were required to pay through third-party administrators.

The new guidelines, drawn up by the U.S. Justice Department, change that. The order does not prohibit employers paying such benefits, and many employers will continue to do so. Nor will anyone be deprived by the government of their condoms, diaphragms and other birth-control devices. But “going forward,” as the cliche goes, an employer will not be required by the U.S. Government to violate his conscience for the convenience of those hostile to religious faith.

“Our freedom as citizens has always been inextricably linked with our freedom as a people,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Friday when the guidelines were posted. “It has protected both the freedom to worship and the freedom not to believe. Every American has a right to believe, worship and exercise [his] faith. The protections for this right, enshrined in the Constitution and laws, serve to declare and protect this important part of our heritage.”

The president directed Mr. Sessions to “issue guidance interpreting religious-liberty protections in federal law” in order “to guide all agencies in complying with relevant federal law.” The guidelines are based on 200 laws and more than 150 existing regulations, including the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and in themselves do not establish new policy. The law and regulations get new life, guaranteed in the letter and the spirit of the First Amendment.

The new guidelines offer both religious and moral exemptions to the law. Churches, synagogues, mosques, schools and charities with religious affiliations would be covered by a religious exemption, and employers with moral opposition to providing contraception or abortion-inducing drugs would qualify for an exemption without a religious affiliation.

The new guidelines are not necessarily good news for lawyers in search of clients. The Health and Human Services Department estimates that more than 200 organizations are currently suing the federal government in opposition to the Obama mandate, and most of these lawsuits will be moot, or no longer be of legal significance.

Several left and liberal organizations quickly denounced the new guidelines, revealing the true nature of the Obama-era mandate. “The Trump administration is carrying out the agenda of religious fundamentalists,” said a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “The rights of LGBTQ people, women, religious minorities, nontheists and others hang in the balance as the Trump administration continues to toe the line for its fundamentalist base.”

The fundamental goal of the left is clear enough. It is determined to eliminate the rights of those with whom it fiercely opposes with a fierce intolerance. The new mandate is squarely in line with the Constitution and the values of religious freedom that birthed the exceptional nation, and defends the rights of all, left, right and center, believers and skeptics alike.

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