The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing Tuesday on the Obama administration's decision that would require most religious organizations to carry coverage of contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even when they are opposed to the use of those services. Some committee members and panelists described President Obama's position on this issue, and other religious liberty issues, as "extreme."
"Recent Obama administration policy decisions have shown a pattern of open hostility to religious organizations and religious liberty," Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said in his opening statement.
At the House Oversight Committee's Feb. 16 hearing on the same topic, Republicans were criticized by Democratic leaders and some members of the press when the first panel had only men. (Though, there was a female on the second panel and none of the witnesses called by the Democrats were female.)
Democrats present the issue as one about women's health while Republicans present the issue as one about religious freedom. Having no women on the panel would, therefore, be more of an issue from the Democrat's perspective.
This time, the witnesses included three females, Asma Uddin, an attorney for Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Dr. Linda Rosenstock, dean of the School of Public Health at UCLA, and Jeanne Monahan, director of the Center for Human Dignity at Family Research Council, and one male, the Rev. William Lori, chair of the Committee for Religious Liberty at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Uddin compared the birth control mandate to the Obama administration's position in a recent Supreme Court case in which it argued that religious employers should not receive an exemption to some employment discrimination laws when deciding who they could hire, not hire or fire for religious instruction. All nine justices disagreed with the administration's position in that case. The Becket Fund represented the religious institution.
"This administration's position was so extreme that the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected their reasoning and decided in our client's favor and in defense of the First Amendment," Uddin said.
In a speech earlier this month, Obama said he would amend the birth control mandate. Religious institutions that object to the coverage will not have to pay for it, but if any of their employees ask for the coverage, the insurance company must offer it to them for free.
Uddin called Obama's proposed change a "smokescreen that sadly fooled much of the American public who were rightly concerned by the mandate."
Ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.) argued, in his opening statement, that Republicans are seeking to deny women access to birth control.
Uddin said the clients that Becket Fund are representing "do not seek to prevent women from accessing these abortion drugs, but they do object to having to provide them against their conscience."
Uddin and Monahan also pointed out their gender and argued that proponents of the birth control mandate do not speak for all women.
"Religious women are also speaking out," Monahan said, and, "no one speaks for all women on these issues."
"As a Muslim-American woman and an academic, I have spent my career fighting for women's and minority's rights, and the fact that I must be here today to explain why our constitutional rights exist is extremely offensive to me personally," Uddin concluded.