Secretary Tom Price said he will take swift action on the ObamaCare contraception mandate after President Donald Trump’s religious freedom executive order.
“Religious liberty is our country’s first freedom. Americans of faith play a vital role in caring for our most vulnerable citizens, including the elderly and the poor,” Secretary Price said in a statement. “We welcome today’s executive order directing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to reexamine the previous administration’s interpretation of the Affordable Care Act’s preventive services mandate, and commend President Trump for taking a strong stand for religious liberty.”
President Trump signed an executive order on Thursday that instructs the Treasury Department not to enforce certain aspects to the Johnson Amendment, which was enacted into law in 1954.
It is named after then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson who was faced with what could be a reelection defeat in Texas at the hands of a conservative faith-based candidate. It bans churches and non-profit organizations from engaging in political activity.
If they do not comply, they lose their tax-exempt status that enables them to organize and operate.
The order came on the National Day of Prayer and is undoubtedly a watered down version that some evangelical leaders say doesn’t go far enough. Still, it ends the government targeting of religious groups started by the Obama Administration, playing out most famously in the Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor landmark Supreme Court cases.
But activists at the leftwing American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are already “judge shopping” and preparing to mount a legal challenge.
“It is a license to discriminate. It means that soon a woman and her family could lose birth control coverage — an employment benefit she has earned —simply because her boss has a religious objection to it,” Georgeanne M. Usova, who worked in the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office said in response. “Women could be literally paying for their bosses’ religious beliefs.”
In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby and other closely held corporations do have a right to religious liberty and the freedom of conscious. The decision marked the first time the court had ruled for-profit businesses can cite religious liberty as an objection to overreaching federal laws.
Justice Neil Gorsuch, the newest member of the Court who was appointed by President Trump, heard the Hobby Lobby case while serving on the 10th Circuit in Colorado. His opinion turned out to be in the majority.
But then in 2015, the Supreme Court sent a challenge to the ObamaCare contraception mandate by religious-affiliated employers such as the Little Sisters of the Poor back to lower courts. The high court was considering whether institutions such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic charity of nuns, could be exempt from having to directly pay for or indirectly permit birth control and other reproductive coverage in their health plans.
However, the justices decided not to rule on the merits of the case, but rather sent it back to the appeals courts to make new decisions based on recent statements.
“The Court expresses no view on the merits of the cases,” the court said in an unsigned, unanimous opinion. “In particular, the Court does not decide whether petitioners’ religious exercise has been substantially burdened, whether the Government has a compelling interest, or whether the current regulations are the least restrictive means of serving that interest.”
“We will be taking action in short order to follow the President’s instruction to safeguard the deeply held religious beliefs of Americans who provide health insurance to their employees,” Secretary Price said.