Washington, DC, October 15, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – As the debate rages over the HHS birth control mandate and other attacks on religious freedom by the government, a bipartisan group of more than 120 state legislators in nine states have launched caucuses focused on protecting religious liberties at the state level.
Organizing their efforts is the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s American Religious Freedom Program (ARFP), which will provide resources and expertise to state lawmakers who wish to enact state-specific religious freedom laws.
“A high percentage of laws are made in state houses, not by Congress, and a high percentage of religious freedom threats materialize in states,” Tim Shultz, state legislative policy director for the ARFP, told the Deseret News. “But states have not been as quick to recognize that this is something they will have to confront.”
Schultz pointed to cases like one in Kansas, where a Medicaid patient who was a Jehovah’s Witness was denied coverage for an alternative treatment because her faith forbade her to receive a blood transfusion. The patient had to wait two years for the courts to force Medicaid to provide her with treatment that did not violate her beliefs.
Representative Debbie Lesko, Majority Whip of the Arizona State House and a member of the Religious Liberty Caucus, singled out Obamacare and the HHS birth control mandate as wake-up calls for those concerned about religious freedom.
“I think we’re seeing the erosion of religious liberty and freedom right before our eyes,” she told LifeSiteNews.com in an interview.
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Lesko gained national attention earlier this year when she introduced legislation to allow employers who object to abortion, sterilization or contraception on religious grounds to refuse to pay for them with company-provided health insurance. The bill was originally written to cover all Arizona employers, but was later changed to cover only “religiously affiliated” employers in order to secure passage.
Lesko, who introduced the bill in response to the HHS mandate, said she thinks the law will put Arizona in a better position than many states when it comes to fighting the mandate in the courts.
The legislator says that despite the flak she has taken from the national media this year, she is happy to be on the front lines fighting for religious freedom. “I am very proud that Arizona is one of the first states to have a Religious Liberty Caucus,” she told LifeSiteNews. “One of our goals is to have Religious Liberty Caucuses in all 50 states.”
In an October 9 opinion piece for National Review Online, ARFP’s Executive Director Brian Walsh wrote, “Often, state legislatures over the years have failed to appreciate their responsibility to fashion clear laws protecting the rights of the people from overreaching government officials and policies. Some seem to have wrongly assumed that religious liberty would always be respected by judges and by executive-branch officials. Today’s announcement signals a change to that lax attitude.”
“This is not an issue that can (or rightfully should) be left solely to the dictates of either the judicial or executive branches,” he argued. “That is why over 100 lawmakers of both major parties in nine states across the country are announcing today the nation’s first state religious freedom caucuses. They are taking the lead to ensure that Americans’ God-given and constitutional rights to religious freedom are restored now and solidified for generations to come.”
The nine states that are currently host to religious freedom caucuses are Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Tennessee.