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Religious liberty is cornerstone of democracy

February 17, 2012
By Rep. Dan Benishek , Daily Press

WASHINGTON - On Jan. 20 of this year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced a new regulation that will effectively threaten America's freedom of religion. This new federal rule will require all employer-provided health plans to include coverage for contraception, sterilization, and, in some cases, abortion inducing drugs. The regulation is part of President Obama's new health care law, the "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act" (PPACA), also known as 'Obamacare.'

Regardless of their faith, this ruling has been criticized by organizations including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. While largely ignored by traditional media outlets, I see this regulation as violating the most sacred of our treasured amendments. While I disagree with many elements of the Administration's health care law, this new rule is the most egregious example of federal intrusion to date.

Ultimately, I believe this ruling by the Administration is unconstitutional as it violates tenants of America's right to religious liberty. The concept that the federal government can force people to pay for actions that violate the teachings of their faith goes against two centuries of American religious freedom. This action represents the very government overreach that the framers of our nation fought against and the reason the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution.

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Rep. Dan Benishek

I am reminded of the words of our nation's first Catholic President, John F. Kennedy, who said in 1960, "I would not look with favor upon a President working to subvert the First Amendment's guarantees of religious liberty."

I recently cosponsored H.R. 1179, the "Respect for Rights of Conscience Act of 2011." This bill will amend Obamacare to protect the rights of employers who seek to buy health care coverage for their employees based on their moral and religious convictions. Most Northern Michigan citizens see the right to practice one's religion as a fundamental liberty. I am hopeful Congress will pass legislation in the coming weeks that will block the implementation of a federal rule that interferes with our basic civil rights.

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Rep. Dan Benishek is a general surgeon and is serving in his first term in the U.S. House of Representatives.



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