Wicker reaffirms importance of religious freedom

Published 7:00 am Thursday, January 21, 2016

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …
– U.S. Constitution, First Amendment
Although religious freedom is a right we celebrate every day, January 16 is National Religious Freedom Day, commemorating the 1786 Virginia statute that helped inspire the religious protections in the First Amendment. Today, efforts to protect religious freedom are as important as ever, as the Obama Administration continues to infringe the rights of Americans to practice their faiths.
Religious Nonprofits Challenge Health-Care Mandate
The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to rule on one such encroachment in Zubik v. Burwell, which concerns a lawsuit filed by the Little Sisters of the Poor. In the coming months, the Supreme Court will consider Obamacare mandates that undermine the deeply-held religious convictions of certain nonprofits and charities. Unlike churches and church ministries, devout religious organizations like the Little Sisters of the Poor are being forced to offer – and thereby subsidize – health-care plans that provide contraceptives and abortion drugs despite their religious beliefs.
I have supported repeal of the President’s health-care law from the start, in no small part because of mandates that I believe violate the U.S. Constitution. I recently joined 31 of my colleagues in the Senate and 175 members in the House of Representatives in sending a bipartisan amicus brief to the Supreme Court that argues for freedom of religion to be upheld in the Zubik v. Burwell case. Like the 2014 Supreme Court case involving Hobby Lobby, Americans should not be forced to compromise their faith in order to comply with the health-care law. The justices agreed in 2014 that government-mandated contraceptive coverage violated protections on religious freedom.
Safeguarding the Military’s Right of Conscience
The same respect for religious expression should be protected in the military. As a member of the Armed Services Committee, I have fought to preserve the right of service members and military chaplains to adhere to their conscience and religious convictions despite the President’s political agenda. My proposal reaffirming the Department of Defense’s protection of religious freedom in the military was included in the most recent defense authorization bill. I have also sponsored legislation, such as the “Military Religious Freedom Act,” to protect military chaplains from being pressured to perform a marriage ceremony that goes against their conscience.
Protecting Our Constitutional Heritage
Our country’s founders understood the fundamental importance of religious freedom, which remains central to both the preservation of individual rights and the fabric of our democracy. Around the world, America is looked to as the standard-bearer of liberty and tolerance.
This reputation as the “land of the free” depends on the constant protection of inalienable principles, no matter the political tides. Intrusive government rules that chip away at the right to exercise our faith and express our beliefs not only threaten to rewrite the Constitution but also challenge the essence of who we are as humans and Americans. I stand steadfast in my commitment to defend religious freedom from government overreach.

By Senator Roger Wicker

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