Obama, Romney Respond To AJC Poll: Question 9 (Religious Freedom)

The American Jewish Committee has posted answers to President Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s responses to a questionnaire from the organization.

Eight questions have been posted so far. Question 9 follows below. The last questions and the responses from the two candidates will be posted tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Question 9: The Constitution protects religious freedom by mandating that the government shall make no law establishing religion, or abridging the free exercise thereof. How should the government protect this fundamental liberty? Is it either constitutionally permissible or socially desirable for religious institutions to seek to impel the state to implement policies that are motivated by an understanding of scriptures? Should a president’s religious beliefs play a role in presidential decision-making? Should religious institutions – or individuals, generally – be exempted from laws of general application based on religious objections? In the context of the current controversy over inclusion of contraception in mandated health insurance coverage, how would you reconcile the need to safeguard women’s rights and women’s health with the need to protect the religious liberty of religiously affiliated hospitals?

Response from President Obama

My own Christian faith is important to me, and my first job in Chicago was working with Catholic parishes in poor neighborhoods, funded by a grant from an arm of the Catholic Church. I saw that local churches often did more good for a community than a government program ever could, so I understand and applaud the important of the work of faith-based organizations. I’ve set up the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships to create and expand partnerships with faith-based and secular nonprofits on a range of issues, from hunger to housing to job training, and I’m proud that this Office has done just that.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, most health insurance plans will cover recommended preventive services, including contraception, without charging a co-pay or deductible beginning in August 2012. I also know that some religious institutions have a religious objection to directly providing insurance that covers contraceptive services for their employees. That is why, from the beginning of this process, we worked with institutions like religiously affiliated hospitals and universities to find an equitable solution that protects religious liberty and ensures that women have access to the care that they need, no matter where they work. This new law will save money for millions of Americans and ensure that Americans nationwide get the high-quality care they need to stay healthy. Today, nearly 99 percent of all women have used contraception at some point in their lives, but more than half of all women between the ages of 18-34 have struggled to afford it. Under my administration’s policy, women will have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services no matter where they work.

This policy also fully respects religious liberty. It ensures that if a woman works for a religious employer with objections to providing contraceptive services as part of its health plan, the religious employer will not be required to provide, pay for or refer for contraception coverage. Instead, her insurance company will be required to directly offer her contraceptive care free of charge. The new policy ensures that women can get contraception without paying a co-pay while also holding paramount the core constitutional principle of religious liberty.

Response from Governor Mitt Romney

  • Religious liberty is the first freedom in our Constitution.
  • Too many people, it seems, misunderstand what religious liberty means. The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, and went to great lengths to make sure that we would not choose government representatives based upon their religion. As president, I would never allow authorities of my church, or of any other church, to ever exert influence on my presidential decisions. As Governor, I did not confuse the particular teachings of my church with the obligations of the office and of the Constitution, and I would not do so as president. I will put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law.
  • The founders, however, did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation where there is a plurality of faiths, and where we not only tolerate many faiths, but respect them. After all, American values such as the equality of human kind, the obligation to serve one another, and a steadfast commitment to liberty are not unique to any one denomination. They belong to the great moral inheritance we hold in common.
  • A fundamental tenet of religious liberty is that the government should not compel any religious institution to subsidize a practice or product that violates its religious tenets. The Obama Administration, unfortunately, does not seem to understand this. Women, of course, have the right to contraception. Government does not, however, have the right to force people-who have religious objections to contraception-to pay for it. We have ample means of affording health care to poorer women, including Medicaid and private charities that do not have religious objections to contraception. There is no need to violate individuals’ religious liberties to provide for these women.

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