Photo credit: American Life League (CC-By-NC 2.0)

The Trump Administration through the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury, and Labor announced today two companion interim final rules that provide conscience protections to Americans who have a religious or moral objection to paying for health insurance that covers contraceptive/abortifacient services.

Under the existing Obamacare regulatory requirements, employers, unless they qualify for an exemption, must offer health insurance that covers all FDA-approved contraception, which includes medications and devices that may act as abortifacients as well sterilization procedures.

Under the first of two companion rules released, entities that have sincerely held religious beliefs against providing such services would no longer be required to do so. The second rule applies the same protections to organizations and small businesses that have objections on the basis of moral conviction which is not based on any particular religious belief.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions also released guidance on federal law protections for religious liberty today. He also sent a memo to Justice Department component heads and U.S. Attorneys instructing them on how the guidance applies to the department.

“Our freedom as citizens has always been inextricably linked with our religious freedom as a people. It has protected both the freedom to worship and the freedom not to believe. Every American has a right to believe, worship, and exercise their faith. The protections for this right, enshrined in our Constitution and laws, serve to declare and protect this important part of our heritage,” Sessions said in a released statement. “As President Trump said, ‘Faith is deeply embedded into the history of our country, the spirit of our founding and the soul of our nation . . . [this administration] will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore.’”

“The constitutional protection of religious beliefs and the right to exercise those beliefs have served this country well, have made us one of the most tolerant countries in the world, and have also helped make us the freeist and most generous. President Trump promised that this administration would ‘lead by example on religious liberty,’ and he is delivering on that promise,” he added.

These interim rules and guidance follow an executive order that President Donald Trump issued in May that left a number of conservatives unimpressed. There is optimism, however, with today’s announcements.

“One of my fondest memories of working with President Trump so far is sitting in the Rose Garden as he stood strongly for religious liberty and asked the Little Sisters of the Poor to come on stage with him. The sisters had been so mistreated by the Obama Administration – dragged into court, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, for cheap political points – it brought tears to my eyes to see a president who respected and appreciated them,” Penny Nance, President and CEO of Concerned Women for America, said.

“It was just a promise then, but today he has made it a reality. And that is the story to me. The story should be that this is a president who is truly committed to liberty. He is committed to America, and he is working to keep his word to the American people. That is incredibly honorable and noble,” she added.

“All Americans should have the freedom to peacefully live and work consistent with their faith without fear of government punishment. The guidance that the Trump administration issued today helps protect that First Amendment freedom. As the memo states, ‘Americans do not give up their freedom of religion by participating in the marketplace, partaking of the public square, or interacting with government,’ and ‘free exercise of religion includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one’s religious beliefs.’ This guidance will help prevent families like the Vander Boons in Michigan who were threatened with the effective closure of their family-run business for simply expressing a religious point of view on marriage that differed from that of the federal government,” Michael Farris, President, CEO and General Counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, said.

“And it is another step toward fulfilling President Trump’s promise to protect a host of Christian colleges, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and others from having to choose between violating their consciences and paying crippling fines to the IRS. The guidance is on firm legal and constitutional ground. As it notes, the U.S. Supreme Court made clear in its recent 7-2 decision in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer, singling out religious Americans for unequal treatment by the government ‘is odious to our Constitution…, and cannot stand.’ As CEO of the largest religious freedom legal organization in the world, I commend the president for taking another step to honor his campaign promise to make religious liberty his ‘first priority’ by directing the Department of Justice to issue this guidance, which simply directs the federal government to adhere to its legal and constitutional obligation to respect existing religious freedom protections,” he added.

“Today President Trump delivered a huge victory for conscience rights and religious liberty in America,” SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said. “No longer will Catholic nuns who care for the elderly poor be forced by the government to provide abortion-inducing drugs in their health care plans. Not only that, moral objectors such as the  Susan B. Anthony List will also no longer have to pay for life-ending drugs that are antithetical to their mission and for which we have argued there is certainly no ‘compelling state interest.’”

“The Obama Administration’s repeated violations of conscience were deeply contrary to the core of our nation, which was built on the foundation of respect for the individual freedoms of the people and deeply held religious beliefs. We thank President Trump for fulfilling a core promise to voters of faith and conscience who elected him,” she added.

“The March For Life Education and Defense Fund exists to protect and defend life from conception. When we were forced by the Obama administration to carry drugs and devices that destroy life in its early stages we were appalled and ultimately needed to seek legal protection. It is un-American to force non-profit organizations to defy their very reason for being on something as important as life. We are grateful to the Trump Administration for this rule which will allow pro-life organizations to freely operate according to their beliefs on something as important as the protection of life and look forward to final resolution of our case in court that is consistent with this rule,” March for Life President Jeanne Mancini, a litigant against the mandate, said.  “Our nation has a rich history of protecting conscientious objectors and pro-life organizations must be free to operate according to their beliefs.”

“Students for Life thanks President Trump for following through on his promises to address the injustice created by the mandates in Obamacare. It should surprise no one that the abortion lobby pushed to force Americans to pay for their deadly drugs and services, but it’s un-American for taxpayers to be forced into court to enjoy their Freedom of Religion. Still, fixing the health care law is just step one. No taxpayer dollars should go to abortionists, like those at Planned Parenthood, which is still raking in more than half-a-BILLION dollars a year in taxpayer monies. Planned Parenthood must be defunded – whether through changes in the healthcare law, in the tax proposal, or any other bill that legislators want to introduce,” Kristan Hawkins, President of Students for Life of America, said.

“By clarifying that religious freedom encompasses all aspects of religious practice, not just the revisionist definition of freedom to ‘worship,’ President Trump’s administration has set forth the right principles for interpreting existing law. We are very excited to see the Little Sisters of the Poor and other morally-motivated citizens receive the justice they deserve,” Anna Anderson, Director of Religious Freedom with American Principles Project, said.

“Unfortunately, in light of the redefinition of marriage by nine unelected judges, the Left is still free to persecute good-willed Americans who still hold beliefs about marriage, sexuality, and gender that are in line with all of human history. President Trump and his agencies have done all possible to interpret existing law so that Americans do not have to choose between the law and their faith. Now it is time for Congress to follow suit. Our elected officials must take legislative action to protect the religious and moral convictions of Americans when they run up against the steamroller of secular belief,” she added.

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