By National Review Staff Writer January 18, 2019 06:53:07America’s religious liberty laws, which protect the freedom of faith and association for members of religious groups, have been hit hard by a series of high-profile decisions that have made it clear that America’s founders believed they had no right to impose a religious test for office.
President Donald Trump announced on January 6 that he will nominate former Arizona Gov.
Jan Brewer to lead the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The Republican-controlled Senate approved the nomination after a hearing in January, and the nomination was approved by the Senate on January 25.
In an order signed on January 26, the President rescinded Obama-era guidance that said that religious employers who object to providing birth control coverage are required to provide employees with a religious exemption.
That guidance said the HHS could “provide such a exemption” to religious employers.
In addition, the Obama-created HHS guidance said that a religiously affiliated school or church could not be denied funding to provide health care services if its health insurance plan provided the same or similar coverage for employees who were not affiliated with the church or school.
The Obama-appointed Obama Justice Department said the guidance “misconstrued” the meaning of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was enacted in 1993.
In a January 27 order, the Justice Department clarified that “in certain circumstances” the Obama administration’s interpretation of the law was accurate.
In other cases, however, the administration’s position was “unsupportable,” the Justice department said in a statement to The Washington Post.
The Trump administration also rescinded guidance that the Justice Dept. had issued in 2017 that said it was permissible for employers to deny contraception coverage to employees who are religiously unaffiliated.
The Justice Dept’s guidance, issued in May 2017, stated that if an employer chooses to provide birth control to employees that do not believe that birth control is appropriate for them, they can deny coverage to that employee.
It did not say the employer could deny coverage for any employee who believes birth control causes abortions.
A federal judge in February also overturned an Obama-issued HHS rule that would have required religious organizations that receive federal money to provide equal access to contraception coverage, as the Obama Justice Dept had requested.
The HHS guidance also said that in cases where a person has a medical condition that makes it difficult for them to work or that makes them ineligible for a job, the employer may deny insurance coverage to those employees if the individual has the medical condition.
The Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to the Obama guidance, but on January 31 the justices declined to take up the case.
Trump announced in January that he would nominate Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., to lead HHS.
Pompeo is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, which oversees the Pentagon and oversees HHS.
On January 29, Pompeo said that he supports the repeal of Obama-administered guidance that required religiously affiliated schools and churches to provide contraception coverage and the creation of an HHS mandate that employers provide contraception.
He said he opposes “forced accommodation” that requires employers to pay for the coverage.
In January, Pompeos appointment was supported by the American Family Association (AFA), which said that the Pompeos nomination was a “victory for religious liberty and freedom of religion.”AFA Executive Vice President Matt Barber, a member from the Christian right, said in an April 5 post on the group’s website that Pompeo’s nomination was “the culmination of years of anti-gay legislation and attacks on religious liberty.”
A federal appeals court on January 30 overturned an HHS rule requiring employers to provide contraceptive coverage.
The court said the rule violated the religious freedom of employers because it “is the equivalent of forcing employers to violate their religious beliefs about birth control, abortion, marriage, or other essential tenets of their faith.”
The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., which said the mandate violated religious freedom.
The Pompeos administration said in January it was reconsidering the rule, but said it would not overturn the ruling on religious freedom grounds.