Maggie Gallagher

Can the government order you to pay for anything if it calls it "health care"?

Can President Obama make you choose between your religious faith and your health care coverage?

Enter Senate bill 1467, the "Respect for Rights of Conscience Act." The bill, introduced by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., would repeal the most intrusive part of the Obamacare power grab: the authority Obamacare gives the federal government to compel religious people and faith groups to subsidize as "health care" whatever a government wants.

The Obamacare mandates are even worse than you already think. The government's new massive intrusion on people of faith comes in three ways: First, Obamacare's mandates give Obama the power to redefine what counts as a religious ministry, charity or organization entitled to conscience protection.

Colorado Christian College? Not a religious organization, Obama's Health and Human Services bureaucrats order.

The nuns who run the Eternal Word Television Network? Not a religious organization, Obama decrees.

Focus on the Family? Not a religious organization, Obamacare dictates.

A soup kitchen run by the Salvation Army that helps every poor person regardless of religion? Not a religious organization, insists Obama.

Seventy-two percent of Americans in the latest Gallup poll believe Obamacare's individual mandate is unconstitutional, but Obama does not care what you or I think. He insists on keeping the power to force people of faith to subsidize whatever he believes they should.

Second, Obamacare gives an HHS bureaucrat the unprecedented power to redefine what counts as "health care." Right now, the president has decided that health care insurance must include contraception, including drugs that sometimes cause early pregnancies to abort. But it won't stop there. The left has no problem redefining such basic concepts as "marriage" and "human life." How long will it take into a second Obama term before HHS redefines "contraception" to include all chemical abortions?

Third, Obamacare's mandates cut off the capacity of religious groups to withdraw from government mandates in new ways. Obamacare's dicta have real teeth.

The full cost of Obamacare's mandates is only now beginning to be calculated.

I was speaking this morning to a religious liberty expert who is in the midst of analyzing the costs of refusing to comply with Obamacare's mandate. Belmont Abbey College, founded and run by monks, will face "crushing penalties" of more than a million dollars a year if the Catholic school tries to step outside the government health care system, this expert told me.

On top of the financial penalty, the monks at Belmont Abbey (like hundreds of other religious schools, charities, hospitals and ministries) will have to deprive themselves and their employees of all insurance coverage as the cost of conscience.

They will not be allowed to go into the insurance market and pay for health care coverage their conscience can support, because the government will have made it illegal for health insurance companies to provide such coverage policies. There are very few crimes in this country for which the penalty is so severe.

The coercion involved is massive. It is inexplicable except as part of a deliberate plan by Obama to reduce religious influence in the public square -- to reduce the capacity of religious people to create institutions that stand up against government power.

Chicago Archbishop Cardinal Francis George simply called it "theft."

As he was leaving the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin was famously asked by a woman what form of government our Founding Fathers had given us: "A Republic, madam," he replied. "If you can keep it."

he Senate vote on the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act is the first step in what must be a determined campaign to limit government and protect not only religious liberty, but liberty itself.


Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.