Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced a bill this week that would limit a controversial decision by the Obama administration mandating health coverage for contraceptive services. He spoke about that bill in a Thursday interview with The Christian Post.
The ruling requires employers to provide free contraceptive services, including abortifacients, in their health insurance coverage. There is an exemption for religious organizations, but it is written so narrowly that most religious organizations, such as schools, hospitals and public service organizations, would not qualify. Rubio's bill would expand the exemption for religious groups.
CP: Your bill, The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, S.B. 2043, expands the religious exemption, but does not get rid of the mandate altogether, correct?
Rubio: It would allow the organizations who have conscientious objections to opt out.
There is a broader bill that has been filed by Senator (Roy) Blunt (R-Mo.), that I'm also a cosponsor of, that actually covers all of the conscientious objections that are possible. We narrowly tailored this one to the specific ruling, but there is a broader one that should be in place as well.
CP: What gives President Obama the authority to require this?
Rubio: My answer is he doesn't have the authority. That it's unconstitutional. His Obamacare (The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (2010)) ideas do not trump the Constitution of the United States' protection of religious liberties.
The United States government cannot come in and compel a religion to pay for something that they find morally objectionable. But, he claims that this bill he passed gives him the authority to do it, which is one of the reasons the Obamacare health legislation was such a bad idea.
This is just one more example of the overreach of this administration, which has come to believe that they know best. That somehow their ideas for the country trump the religious freedoms of individual Americans.
CP: So, Obama is claiming he has the authority under the Affordable Care Act and you're saying that he is violating the religious freedom clauses of the First Amendment?
Rubio: That's right. We have to understand the issue here because I think our opponents will try to confuse it. This is not about preventing Catholic women from having access to contraception. This is not about outlawing contraception. This is basically saying you can, if you want to, offer health coverage that has contraception. But you cannot require, specifically in this case, the Catholic Church, which teaches that contraception is wrong, you cannot require them to pay for something that they believe is wrong. It's such an overreach of government's powers.
I think that a lot of people that are not Catholic, that aren't even religious, will be offended by the fact that this administration has come to believe that their power extends that far.
CP: Kevin Drum, a columnist for Mother Jones, wrote that if Catholic institutions take taxpayer money, they should have to follow taxpayer rules. What is your response?
Rubio: Number one, they don't take taxpayer money for a profit. I don't know what taxpayer money he is referring to, but the taxpayer money they would use would be in the service of others.
Number two is, there is no way you can require someone to forfeit their constitutional rights. It is not just about a government rule. It is about a government rule that is unconstitutional and it violates a basic tenet of our laws.
You cannot go to people and say, if you want the federal government to help you, you must waive your constitutional right to the freedom of religion.
CP: What would you say to someone who may be learning about this for the first time and they say to themselves, "I'm not Catholic, so I don't need to worry about this?"
Rubio: I would say that the logic used to reach this conclusion could be used to reach conclusions that are even more horrifying. The logic used to reach this conclusion, that somehow the policy ideas of the administration are more important than your right, or my right, to freely practice a religion, or not practice a religion by the way, could lead to horrifying results down the road.
You can end up coming to any religion in this country and saying, "you have the freedom of religion so long as it doesn't conflict with what we think is good for the country in our politics." All Americans of faith should be concerned about that.
CP: Is there a possibility that a court will do what your bill does?
Rubio: There is a possibility and I suspect there will be lawsuits filed as well. But, as you know, the courts take a long time and, in the meantime, you have a decision that is going to have to be made here in the next year where Catholic organizations around this country are going to have to choose between complying with the law and complying with their faith. No government should ever put people in that position.
CP: With Democrats in control of the Senate, does your bill have any chance of making it to the floor?
Rubio: I don't think this is a partisan issue. I would hope that Democrats, even those who may not agree with the Catholic Church, will ultimately realize this is not about the Catholic Church, this is not about Christianity. This is about religious freedom and the ability to practice your faith without interference from the American government. This is about the ability of a specific church to not be forced and compelled to have to do something, to have to pay for something that their faith teaches is immoral.
CP: Have any or will any Democrats cosign the bill?
Rubio: It was just filed. I don't have any yet. We hope to have some conversations in the next few days.
The ideal scenario would be that the president reconsiders. Media accounts today say that there was significant disagreement within his own administration. I even read somewhere, I don't know if it's true, that Vice President [Joe] Biden advised against this. So, I would hope that the administration reconsider and understand that the impact of this goes further than anticipated. That would be the ideal scenario. If they don't, I do hope that we will be able to create a bipartisan consensus to deal with this legislatively.