President Obama can't veto the First Amendment, so he's doing the next best thing: refusing to let his troops exercise it. In his most combative move yet, the administration warned Congress yesterday that it strongly opposes Rep. John Fleming's religious freedom amendment, which sailed through the House Armed Services Committee with bipartisan support.
Nothing about Fleming's measure is controversial, unless you object to Americans' rights as outlined by the U.S. Constitution. The President, who isn't exactly a big proponent of conscience rights (in case you missed the health care debate), thinks his troops should have to swallow their religious beliefs to serve. And to the delight of anti-Christian extremists, Obama's Pentagon has spent the last several months muzzling -- or worse, punishing -- men and women of faith. From stripping Bibles off desks to crashing private parties, religion -- and in particular Christianity -- have become dirty words in the ranks.
Now, the administration is taking its spite to new heights by threatening to withhold a year's worth of defense funding over a simple amendment protecting the same rights our troops fight for every day. In a statement, the White House sent a chilling message to all Americans about their basic liberties: "The administration strongly objects to section 530, which would require the Armed Forces to accommodate, except in cases of military necessity, 'actions and speech' reflecting the 'conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of the member.' By limiting the discretion of commanders to address potentially problematic speech and actions within their units, this provision would have a significant adverse effect on good order, discipline, morale, and mission accomplishment."
The administration, which had been content to drive faith underground in the military, is moving to its next phase: driving faith out. Welcome to Obama's military, where open homosexuality is encouraged but open belief is not. Congressman Fleming -- like most members -- was stunned at the commander-in-chief's open hostility toward the proud tradition of faith in our fighting force. "That is an outrageous position," he told Fox News, "but it's what I've come to expect from an administration that is aggressively hostile toward religious beliefs that it deems politically incorrect."
The Pentagon, which insisted there was no conspiracy against Christians (despite a growing crackdown), will have a difficult time convincing people of that now. Imagine how our troops must feel, knowing that their own commander-in-chief would block an entire budget just to deprive them of the benefits and comforts of religion. Unfortunately, the President is not only denying our service members the consolation of faith, but he is undermining the moral foundation of the world's most powerful military. That should concern everyone -- including Congress.
We applaud Rep. Fleming for giving our troops the attention and protection they deserve. More than 167,000 Americans signed FRC's petitions agreeing with Congressman Fleming that service members deserve the right to freely practice and express their faith. Ask your representative to enlist in the fight and support the Fleming amendment!
A Call to Conscience
Unfortunately, service members aren't the only ones in the President's crosshairs. The rights of health care workers, individuals, and businesses are also at stake as ObamaCare moves closer to full implementation. On August 1st, just weeks from today, religious and nonprofit groups will be the next targets for compliance under the President's birth control-abortion pill insurance mandate. Unless organizations like faith-based hospitals, charities, and schools agree to cover these drugs, the government will start fining them -- hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars a day.
Last night, a group of 11 bipartisan congressmen -- including Reps. Jeff Fortenberry, Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), John Fleming (R-La.), Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Tim Huelskamp (R-Kans.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), and Diane Black (R-Tenn.) -- took to the House floor protest the approaching storm for charitable organizations. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who organized the special order, talked about the new culture of religious oppression in America -- and the importance of passing Rep. Black's Health Care Conscience Rights Act:
"We have lost our collective sense of respect for divergent views. We have lost our sense that the government must protect that sacred right of conscience and not coerce her citizens into doing something that they fundamentally believe is unjust or wrong. [Like the IRS targeting,] the HHS mandate is also a form of discrimination. It primarily targets people in faith communities, the very people who have been the backstop of compassionate care for the poor, the vulnerable, and the marginalized in our society today... Mr. Speaker, no American should be forced to choose between their conscience and their livelihood. No American should be forced to choose between their faith and their job. No American should be forced to choose between their deeply held, reasoned beliefs and the law. That's a false choice. It's un-American, and it's wrong."
An Arne of One
The President isn't too busy with damage control to push his ridiculous policy ideas. One of the few agencies to escape this latest round of scandals, the Department of Education, is taking the administration's agenda for universal preschool on the road to governors' mansions across the country. In a Washington Post puff piece, Lyndsey Layton describes the grueling schedule Secretary Arne Duncan is keeping to crisscross the country in a massive state lobbying effort to reinvent a project that the government roundly panned: Head Start.
Just months after Health and Human Services (HHS) gave the 40-year program a failing grade, the President is proposing that we expand that failure to every state in America. Duncan, whose job is getting more Governors on board with the idea, is trying to create a groundswell of support that would propel the $75 billion in tobacco taxes (needed to fund the project) through Congress. The President is so serious about the push, Layton writes, that he's created a "war room" on Capitol Hill to lead the campaign.
So far, the White House will have to overcome a lot more than unreceptive conservatives ("There is not chance of a tobacco tax [passing]," said Rep. John Kline). Education experts from across the spectrum are openly critical of the idea, which would enroll toddlers in what is essentially federal daycare. Apart from a terrible track record, there are already 45 government pre-school programs, costing taxpayers an estimated $20 billion a year. Plus, the Heritage Foundation points out, three-quarters of four-year-olds are already in preschool -- both public and private -- across the country, and there's no evidence that these programs are closing the achievement gaps for low- and middle-income students.
Another problem with the President's push is that government Pre-K has less influence on a child's well-being than an institution that costs taxpayers nothing: the intact family. The best preschool a child can have (and most families prefer) is a mom and dad. Unfortunately, a lot of state officials -- including conservatives -- seem open to the administration's pitch. And it's easy to see why. In exchange for their support, Secretary Duncan is dangling millions of dollars in federal funds and the opportunity to opt-out from some of the more onerous parts of Bush's education law.
Neither option can compensate for the negative effects universal preschool will have on states. Contact your governor and state officials and urge them to say NO to this push to expand government schools and Washington's influence on these formative years.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.