January 18, 2018
You'd have to look long and hard to find a more universally despised idea than Obama's HHS mandate. In one of the most clarifying moments of his presidency, the order went out: everyone, regardless of their beliefs, would become unwilling partners in the president's culture of death. If your employer performs abortion, you'll participate. If your business sells contraception or pregnancy-ending drugs, you will too. And if you're an employer, church, monastery, or school, you'll cover both -- even if you morally oppose it.
The outcry was swift. If women have a "choice," then nurses, nuns, companies, pharmacists, and colleges should too. Unfortunately for them, the 44th president didn't see it that way. And in 2011, he started defending the rule that would be freedom's undoing.
Through it all, the simple fact remained: regardless of what Americans think of abortion, only the true extremists argued that people should be forced to participate in them. Seven years ago, those extremists were in charge of the government. And they tried to make sure that a pesky little thing like the First Amendment wouldn't get in the way.
They failed. Even in activist courts, the HHS mandate was a political loser. A wave of lawsuits poured in, overwhelming the Obama administration and setting it on the path of defeat in what would be one of the most personally damaging decisions of the Obama years. In near unanimity, judges on all levels dealt blow after blow to the mandate. Despite losing 90 percent of their cases -- including two embarrassing rebukes from the Supreme Court -- the president wouldn't relent. Pushing what was probably the most unconstitutional, unsuccessful, and unpopular agendas of his two terms, Barack Obama was determined to see this payoff to his abortion friends through.
Now, more than 100 cases later, Donald Trump is closing the chapter on one of the worst assaults on religious liberty in a generation. "President Trump promised the American people that his administration would vigorously uphold the rights of conscience and religious freedom. That promise is being kept today," announced acting HHS Secretary Eric Hargan. On the eve of the March for Life, the administration is taking steps to end the war on conscience rights. This morning, the agency announced a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in HHS's Office of Civil Rights (OCR). There, the government will work to protect Americans' beliefs, not punish them.
Under my administration, President Trump has said, "We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied, or silenced." Unfortunately, OCR Chief Roger Severino told reporters, "these protections have been under-enforced in the past." Today, "we are back in business." Until President Obama, the freedom to believe was never a controversial idea. It was such a consensus issue, in fact, that after the Supreme Court invented legalized abortion in 1973, Congress responded by passing a law to protect health care workers from the very discrimination they're facing today. Even Senator Ted Kennedy defended the bill's "full protection to the religious freedom of physicians and others." Only two members objected.
We used to be a nation of consensus on conscience. Now, the same Left who demanded compromise and coexistence has dropped its sham of tolerance in favor of full-blown coercion. We watched the same bait-and-switch with marriage. "Give us what we want, and it won't affect you." Today, "affected" doesn't begin to describe what happens to conservatives who think differently than the radical elites driving the Left. Fired, fined, sued, harassed, or jailed does.
Planned Parenthood complained that an office like this would "impose a broad religious refusal policy that will allow individuals and institutions to deny basic care for women and transgender people. We know from experience that denial of care compromises care." Killing a child isn't care. And while Cecile Richards's group might be quite comfortable in its moral vacuum, most Americans are not. The freedom to believe is for everyone – or it isn't freedom at all.
President Trump understands that -- and he's spent the last 12 months proving it. This White House knows as well as we do: religious liberty isn't found in political proclamations, but in the policies they inspire. Today is yet another example of this president keeping his promises. And not just any promise, but his sworn oath to the American people. Our deepest thanks to an administration who is not wavering in its determination to protect our most sacred property, conscience.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.