OCR New Conscience and Religious Freedom Division Announcement

Roger Severino:
Good morning, my name is Roger Severino. I’m the director of the Office for Civil Rights
at the Department of Health and Human Services. It is my great pleasure and my honor to be
the MC for this event and to welcome all of you to the great hall in the Humphrey Building
to announce the launch of a New Conscience and Religious Freedom Division at the Office
for Civil Rights. [applause] I’d like to thank Secretary Hargan, Majority
Leader McCarthy, Representative Hartzler, Senator Lankford who is on his way — Yes,
Senator Lankford, please come on up. [laughter] And all the distinguished speakers — and
all the distinguished speakers who are joining us today and Arina Grossu for
her tireless work in organizing this event. On May 4th, 2017, we reached a turning in
America. On that day in a beautiful rose garden ceremony,
President Donald Trump signed an executive order on free speech and religious liberty. He promised to “vigorously enforce federal
laws robust protections for religious freedom.” He said we are a nation of tolerance and that
we will not allow people of faith to be bullied or targeted anymore. Today we are taking another large step in
fulfilling that promise with the announcement of the New Conscience and Religious Freedom
Division at HHS, The Office for Civil Rights. This preeminent civil rights is getting the
attention it is due. Today, as some of you know, my background
is in civil rights. I came from religious liberty coming out of
law school. I was at the Department of Justice Civil Rights
Division for seven years. And I did notice that our freedom as enshrined
in the Constitution didn’t always get the attention and protection that it was due. Government funded entities and sometimes government
itself did not respect religious freedom in its operations. Often it would treat it as something to be
overcome, sometimes it was ignored, and sometimes there was outright hostility. HHS has not always been the best keeper of
this liberty. Times are changing, and we are institutionalizing
a change in the culture of government beginning with HHS to never forget that religious freedom
is a primary freedom, that it is a civil right that deserves complete enforcement and respect. [applause] The new division will ensure that we do not
repeat the mistakes of the past and it will be focused exclusively on enforcement, outreach,
and policy making. With this change in tone, which has already
begun, we’ve seen a change in culture. Word has gotten out that we are open for business. Since 2008 until the election in 2016, we
had received 10 conscience complaints on our statutory authorities. Since the election in 2016, we have now received
34 complaints of conscience violations and they are growing. With the rise of complaints on religious freedom
and conscience, we need to have an institutional force to address them, to deal with them,
and to vindicate people’s rights when the law has been violated. So, we must remember that these are laws we
are talking about, we are speaking of the Coats/Snowe amendment, the church amendments,
the Weldon amendment, and a provision in the Affordable Care Act dealing with assisted
suicide. Whatever one’s thoughts about the legality
of abortion, in the wake of Row v. Wade Congress, and presidents have spoken in a bipartisan
fashion year after year to say that people’s conscience rights must be respected when it
comes to issues of life and death. So, that a person will not be coerced and
forced to pay for, refer or cover abortions when it is contrary to the deepest beliefs
and moral convictions or if they object to participating or assisting in an abortion. Same goes for assisted suicide. It is these fundamental questions of conscience
where the state should not force people to ago against their integrated view of humanity. And I’ve been thinking a lot about the question
of conscience and how it’s woven into the fabric of American history. And it goes back to the founding, when the
founders exempted Quakers who were conscientious objectors for military service. Even when there are times of war, and that
tradition continued through Vietnam and conscientious objectors were respected then as well. And personally, I think, when did I become
aware of the notion of conscience and protection of these freedoms. And when I was a kid growing up in L.A., I
remember a World War Two book, it had these very vivid black and white photographs. And there was one photograph in particular,
which was an outline that looked like a foot print. And there was writing in Hebrew, and when
I looked on the caption, it said, it was a cut out of a shoe insole that the Nazis had
forced Jews to wear in their shoes. So, that every step they took, they will be
violating their conscience. And it struck me as a child then, the sheer
wrongness of that action. And I’m Catholic, I’m not Jewish, but still
I could see the common humanity of why if somebody is forced to violate their conscience
with every step they take, how it’s an attack, really on their human dignity. And it’s that notion of conscience that has
animated our country and our laws. And we saw that in the civil rights movement. I had a chance to reread Dr. Martin Luther
King’s letter from a Birmingham jail. Which is a very vivid portrait of what it
was like to be in jail for violating a law. And Dr. King in his letter wrote that this
is — there is nothing new. This is the exercise of conscience. This is what conscience looks like. And because of his right to conscience and
his exercise of it, the civil rights movement blossomed and grew. And we just celebrated and honored Dr. Martin
Luther King on MLK Day, this week. And now we come to today, where we see that
healthcare, especially with The Office of Civil Rights at HHS is the next area where
the issues of conscience and the issues of life and death are coming to the fore. And we have these laws that protect the rights
of medical practitioners, hospitals, and institutions to keep their religious identity and to keep
their moral convictions firm. And those same impulses of faith and moral
conviction that leads folks to take the Hippocratic Oath, that leads them to serve the poor, the
neglected, elderly, and the sick. And that same moral and faith conviction that
leads them to live their life and bring that to the workplace, bring that to their service. Bring that even when they partner with the
federal government. And we are seeing with the launch of this
new division, that you do not need to shed your religious identity, you do not need to
shed your moral convictions to be part of the public square. Everyone is entitled to an equal seat in American
civic life. [applause] The founders knew that a nation that respects
conscience rights, is a more diverse nation, it is a more free nation, and it is a more
just nation. And we are giving the proper focus to this
preeminent civil right, the right of religious freedom, and the right of conscience, and
I thank all of you for joining us today in this wonderful celebration of this right and
this great launch of a new division to institutionalize these values and fill the promises of the
Constitution, of the president, and of our laws. Thank you. [applause] We have some amazing speakers that are joining
us today and I will introduce one as they come above, come up to the podium. And first with Acting Secretary Eric Hargan. Secretary Hargan was sworn into office as
Deputy Secretary of HHS on October 6th, 2017 and was appointed Acting Secretary on October
10th, 2017. Secretary Hargan. [applause] Eric Hargan:
Thank you, Roger, for that introduction and for all the hard work that you and your team
have done to make today a reality. And good morning to everyone. Thank you all for joining us here today. And particularly I wanted to thank each and
every one of you for the work those of you out here do to protect Americans first freedom
as Roger mentioned the — our freedom of religion. And for the work that many of your do exercising
that right in service to others every day. Thank you as well to all the members of Congress
who have joined us here today, Leader McCarthy, Senator Lankford, Representative Hartzler. Today’s announcement of a new Conscience and
Religious Freedom Division at HHS’s Office for Civil Rights is a culmination of months
of hard work by many staff here at HHS. It’s an opportunity for OCR to expand the
already good work that their doing to protect the civil rights of Americans by enforcing
the strong laws that we have on the books to protect those rights. But, it also reflects our commitment to a
more fundamental compact that underlies the work that we do here at HHS. The American people have trusted us with immense
power. Over a trillion dollars of their money comes
through this department every year. We have thousands of pages of statutory and
regulatory powers that we exercise. But, these powers depend fundamentally on
a bargain struck between the American people and their government, which is codified in
our Constitution. Tax payer money and extraordinary powers are
granted to us in exchange for the promise that their rights will be respected. First among those freedoms, first in it’s
placement in the Bill of Rights, first in the hearts of many of those who have come
to our shores fleeing persecution is the freedom of religion. President Trump has the prospect for this
fundamental obligation of government which is what drove the executive order that he
issued on religious liberty back in May of last year. In issuing that order, President Trump promised
that under his administration, “We will not allow people of faith to be targeted bullied
or silenced.” In order to keep that promise, this administration
will vigorously enforce federal laws robust protections for religious freedom. So, today in establishing the new Conscience
and Religious Freedom Division, we’re taking a significant step to implement President
Trump’s vision, and here at HHS, to protect the American tradition of religious liberty
and to live up to our constitutional and our statutory obligations. Now, the philosophical issue here is the protection
of each American’s individual conscience. But, there is an important practical context
here as well. Millions of Americans of faith and conscience
keep our health and human services systems running every day. As much as these activities are often funded
by those of us here at HHS, it’s not the American way for government to take the lead. Rather, we have private, non-profit, and religious
hospitals, doctors, nurses, and medical students serving those in need. We also have religious organizations running
nursing homes, hospices, and other service providers. But, for too long too many of these healthcare
practitioners have been bullied and discriminated against because of their religious beliefs
and moral convictions, leading many of them to wonder whether they have a future in our
healthcare system. The federal government and state governments
have hounded religious hospitals and the men and women who staff them, forcing them to
provide or refer for services that violate their consciences, when they only wish to
serve according to their religious beliefs. But the risks to Americans of faith go beyond
just those who are healthcare providers. Some federal and state regulations, for instance,
have caused Americans to lose access to health insurance coverage that comports with their
religious beliefs. Medical students too can have their beliefs
threatened through being compelled or pressured to participate in or learn how to do procedures
that violate their consciences. The good news is that we do already have strong
laws intended to protect Americans of faith from these harms, and now they will be vigorously
enforced by OCR, and in particular by the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division. [applause] Enforcing these statutes, some of which have
been on the books for decades, and some of which have lain largely dormant, will expand
and compliment the already excellent work that OCR does protecting all Americans civil
rights. Fundamentally, protecting the rights of Americans
of faith, living up to our constitutional obligations is about building a nation of
tolerance. And that is a goal that matters deeply to
all of us. When faithful Americans are bullied out of
the public square and out of public service, when bigotry is allowed to flourish, we all
lose, as individuals, as communities, and as a country. So, thank you again to every one of you here
who works to protect our first freedom, so fundamental to our work as public servants
here at HHS, and to our identity as Americans. I now like to hand it back over to Roger to
continue the program. Thank you. [applause] Roger Severino:
Thank you. Next, we will have majority leader of the
U.S. House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy. Leader McCarthy represents California’s 23rd
Congressional District. Leader McCarthy. [applause] Kevin McCarthy:
Well, thank you Roger for giving me the honor to be here on this very historic day. Human history is a story of religious strife. Even in the best of times and places, the
most a religious minority could hope for was being tolerated, the right to live as a second-class
citizen. Then, America came along, and with it the
promise not of toleration, but of religious freedom. It was a promise of political equality regardless
of faith, and it was unheard of. In the most of the world today, it remains
unheard of. I’m certain that when this nation was founded,
all the emperors and kings of the world looked at our religious diversity and counted the
days until certain demise. We did not survive, grow, and become the most
powerful civilization in human history because we are focused on our diversity. It is not our differences that makes us stronger,
it is our unity despite our diversity. Unity and past of principles and of the purpose
that brought us out of many unto one. What is beautiful about America, is that from
the soil of that unity, a great and peaceful variety has grown. A mixture of nationalities, of class, of expression,
and most profoundly, of religion. This type of nation of peace, prosperity,
and community, and freedom can neither rise from the swamp, nor be proclaimed from above. It demands a certain kind of people, who stubbornly
treat their fellow citizens, their neighbors with respect. New offices, great words or even new laws
will have little effect unless every generation recommits to American’s ideals. Embrace America’s past and stand beside their
fellow citizens for America’s future. If we do not, the kings and emperors of old
will be proven right. The last great hope of freedom on this earth
will perish because we forgot who it was. Are we forgetting today, we face today a time
of rising religious persecution. It’s not violent, it’s not done in the name
of God. But, it is a new orthodoxy, and it is and
intolerant of dissent. Nuns have been forced to put aside their lives
of service to the elderly and the sick, and have to go to court, humbly requesting that
they not be required to pay for practices that end the lives of children. In my own state of California, pregnancy centers
devoted to saving the lives are forced against their deepest beliefs, to advertise by an
abortion industry bankrolled by the state. Now, in the past, this departments silent
refusal to defend our rights sent a very clear message. Now, is not the time for freedom. It is time for you to conform. What a difference one year makes. [applause] This same agency is now opening a Conscience
and Religious Freedom Division within it’s Office of Civil Rights. Devoted to nothing more than treating people
fairly and with justice. To everyone in this agency, I personally want
to say thank you. I know we’ve been working together this past
year to protect religious freedoms for the people of California and the United States. We still have much to do. And I have high hopes that violations of the
Weldon amendment and the arrogance of the California Abortion Mandate and AB775 will
be investigated and resolved quickly. But, our investigations, our new offices,
and passing legislation are known only a part of a renewal of our country however necessary
each one is. We as a people have to renew our nation every
day. We did not create this great country, but
by our daily choices and the choices of every person across this land. We either weaken our country or we make it
stronger. If we don’t embrace the heroism of stewardship
and preserve the freedom of all people to live in accordance with their faith, our unity
is lost. And with that unity, our peace, and with that
peace, our diversity. But, if we defend that freedom, answering
the call of our country, America will remain the hope of all mankind, and the closest the
world have ever come to the brotherhood of man. Thank you, and God bless. [applause] Roger Severino:
Next, we’ll have Senator James Lankford, Senator from Oklahoma and co-chair of the Senate values
action team. Senator Lankford. [applause] James Lankford:
I’d like to thank you Eric, thank you very much to the whole HHS team. Thanks for the engagement for the way that
you serve people every single day. There are a lot of folks in this nation that
you take care of, and that you’re helping provide structure for that make an incredible
difference in their life and in their family’s lives and you’ve done that for a long time. And so, we’re very grateful to what you’re
doing. Today is somewhat a celebration and a recognition. There’s been a law in our country for a long
time to be able to honor religious liberty. It’s foundational due to who we are as a country. In trying their own Constitution as its been
mentioned before in the First Amendment that we have no established religion but neither
do we impede anyone’s religious practice. There is the free exercise. The free exercise of religions seems to be
misunderstood by some. It’s not the ability to have a religion and
practice it in your place of worship, it’s the ability to be able to have a faith, and
live your faith wherever you are. If you have a faith and you can only practice
in your certain place of worship, you don’t have real religious freedom, you have allowance
to be able to go to where you want to go when the government chooses for you to go there. It’s not who we are, we are a nation that
says, have your faith, practice your faith wherever you are in any location that you
exist. It’s been enshrined in our own law and it’s
been reinforced over and over again in places like the Weldon amendment and in other places,
to be able to come back and to reaffirm this is who we are. You see, we as a people don’t believe that
you can just have a faith and have it over there and we’ll tolerate you over there. Religious intolerance is a personal choice,
not a legal requirement. The law allows us to be able to have great
diversity and to be able to practice that diversity. Today is a day just to be able to recognize
that’s been in law and that’s been foundational in our country for a very long time, and that
is firmed as recently as recent Supreme Court cases. The Trinity Lutheran case that was determined
with a 7-2 decision just a few months ago reaffirmed this basic fact that when the government,
whether that be the state or local or federal government partners with a religious institution,
there’s not a requirement for that institution or that entity to set aside their religious
faith. They’re American citizens, the same as people
who do not choose to practice a religious faith. We don’t have a certain bias to say, we’ll
only cooperate with people that have no faith, we cooperate with all Americans, whatever
their faith or if they choose to have no faith practice at all. That is a basic principle of how we operate. And I want to be able just to say that HHS
and their leadership, and to President Trump and the administration, thank you for recognizing
that basic constitutional freedom and understanding we can be a diverse country, including diversity
of faith. And we can live that practice out. Now, Congress still has a responsibility,
there are things that we needed to do to continue to be able to clarify the law. And we will make sure that we have real clear
consistency in what we’re putting in place to make sure this protection is there. But I am grateful to the administration, I’m
grateful to the leadership of HHS, for the task that you’re taking on to make sure that
this stays true. As we’ve already seen this year, I believe
there’s not a flood of new cases of religious intolerance, I think this is an opportunity
for people to be able to say, this has existed for a while and I felt no one was listening. Now, some one is listening, and I want to
be able to express, I have been biased against. It’s a reasonable thing for our nation to
be able to reach back to them and to say, let’s find out. And where it’s wrong, let’s fix an injustice. It’s the basic function of government, to
speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves and to settle the issue of injustice for all
people. Thank you for stepping out and taking the
lead to be able to do that and we look forward to gaining a chance to partner together in
the days ahead for every American, bless you all, thanks. [applause] Roger Severino:
Thank you, Senator Lankford, next we have Representative Vicky Hartzler, Representative
Hartzler represents the 4th Congressional District of Missouri, and is the Chair of
the House Values Action Team. Representative Hartzford. [applause] Vicky Hartzler:
Thank you, Roger. It is truly and honor to be here, to participate
in todays establishment of the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within the
Office for Civil Rights here at HHS. I appreciated the forethought of Acting Secretary,
Eric Hargan, Office of Civil Rights Director Roger Severino, and the entire office for
Civil Rights team for making this possible. Safeguarding our first freedom is paramount
to the future success of our nation. Earlier this week, our nation honored the
memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a gifted speaker, a minister, a civil rights activist,
and a defender of conscience rights. There’s a quote chiseled in Dr. King’s D.C.
memorial that is just as applicable today as it was when it was penned in 1965. It said, “We must come to see that the end
we seek is a society at peace with itself. A society that can live with its conscience. A society and citizenry that can live with
its conscience is one that is not coerced by and employer or anyone within the government
to disregard the framework of faith and the pricking of the human conscience or forced
to engage in actions that violate the very core of their being.” This is why the mission of this new division;
the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division is so crucial. It will protect the most foundational rights
of all Americans. The need for this division has become acutely
apparent as we consider the story of pain, betrayal and the seared conscience of a healthcare
hero, Cathy DeCarlo. Despite clearly communicating her moral objection
to assisting with abortions as a nurse, Cathy’s employer coerced her to participate in an
abortion procedure that took the life of a vulnerable, unborn child. This nightmare should never have happened
to Cathy or to Sandra or to Fay, nurses from Illinois and New Jersey, who like Cathy faced
intense discrimination for opting out of life taking procedures. Cathy’s nightmare should never happen to anyone. No nurse or doctor should lose her job, her
livelihood, or her profession because of her faith. Cathy, Sandra, and Fay’s heart wrenching experiences
are not isolated, and they should never be repeated. I applaud the Office of Civil Rights for proactively
seeking to address discriminatory actions through the Conscience and Religious Freedom
Division. And I remain committed to enacting legislation,
the Conscience Protection Act, which will afford victims of discrimination like Cathy
a day in court. Together, we will ensure that our rights are
protected not only for individuals now but also for future generations to come. Thank you. [applause] Roger Severino:
Thank you, Representative Hartzler, next we’re going to have Sara Hellwege, who is a licensed
and certified nurse midwife from Alabama, Ms. Hellwege. [applause] Sara Hellwege:
Good morning, I am honored to be among those invited to speak today at such an important
event. I would not be here with out the loving sacrifice
of my biological mother, you see when she found herself pregnant and unable to raise
a child, she chose life for me and lovingly placed me into the home of my mother and father. I am grateful to my parents and to my biological
mother for teaching me selflessness and love. As I grew older, I decided I would — wanted
to study nursing and give back to the world by caring for others throughout their lives. While researching graduate school options,
I discovered the Midwifery Model of Care and was drawn to how the profession cared for
women holistically during their entire lives, including the birth of their children. It was then that I knew I had found my calling. To pursue a career as a nurse midwife, serving
others where I could apply the principles I value so much, selflessness, compassion,
intrinsic value of human life, and treating others how I desired to be treated. I know firsthand just how important protecting
the right conscience is, because I have experienced discrimination because of my convictions. In 2014, I was excited to graduate from Midwifery
Program and finally begin serving others throughout their lifespan. I decided to apply for a nurse midwife position
at a family health center in Florida. This federally qualified health center interested
because they provided healthcare to underserved and minority populations. As a pro-life feminist, I cared deeply about
a woman’s whole life and I wanted to give back to my community members through compassionate
healthcare. You can imagine my shock when during the interview
process, they began to quiz me about my conscience convictions regarding abortion and abortion
inducing medications and my membership with the American Associate of Pro-Life Obstetricians
and Gynecologists. I was then told that because of these convictions,
I would not be allowed to interview and proceed with the hiring process. The HR director told me, due the fact that
you are a member of the American Association of Pro-Life OB-GYNs, we are unable to move
forward in the interview process. I never dreamed that my commitment to serving
women and their children would be hinderance to being hired for a job. Thankfully, Alliance to Defending Freedom
fought a federal lawsuit on my behalf against the health center that was receiving federal
funding for their discrimination against me. Although I fought a lawsuit, my experience
is not unique. I have personally communicated with many physicians,
advanced practice nurses, physician’s assistants, registered nurses, and other health professionals
who face daily discrimination and alienation while attempting to practice consistently
with their conscience and religious convictions. We are called to serve others and to do no
harm. As the Hippocratic Oath I took states, despite
whatever different viewpoints we as a nation may hold, I hope that everyone can agree that
no doctor or nurse should be denied employment or fired on account of their faith, conscience,
or commitment to protecting life. President Trump said it so well just this
week, “Religious diversity strengthens our communities and promotes tolerance, respect,
understanding, and equality. Faith breathes life and hope into our world,
we must diligently guard, preserve, and cherish this unalienable right.” That’s why today, I’m excited that HHS is
announcing this new division. To ensure that the conscience rights of all
Americans are protected and that no nursing professionals like me, will be told that being
pro-life is a disqualification for employment. Diversity among healthcare providers also
ensures that patients have more choices and options available to them so that they can
find a medical professional who shares their convictions and their values. Thank you for your commitment to conscience
and to working to ensure that government doesn’t discriminate against healthcare professionals
or make our ability to serve the most vulnerable contingent upon us giving up our conscience
and our respect for life. Thank you. [applause] Roger Severino:
Thank you, next we have Asma Uddin, fellow in the initiative on security and religious
freedom at UCLA, and the founder of AltMuslimah. [applause] Asma Uddin:
Thank you for inviting me to present today. I welcome the establishment of a Conscience
and Religious Freedom Division at the HHS Office of Civil Rights. Religious liberty is not merely a right to
personal religious beliefs or even to worship in a sacred place. It also encompasses religious observants and
practice. Except in the narrowest circumstances, no
one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the
law. Although the application of religious freedom
may vary in different contexts, individuals and organizations do not give up their religious
liberty protections by providing or receiving healthcare. As a longtime religious liberty advocate,
I have seen the many ways the government can violate conscience in a host of settings,
including in healthcare. By establishing a religious freedom division,
HHS incentivizes its grantees to take practical steps to improve safeguards. This includes learning about all of the diverse
ways religious believers of every faith community express their beliefs in the provision or
receipt of healthcare. For example, many Muslims, many members of
my own community need a respect for modesty, particularly as patients. Religious freedom is of central importance
to members of majority and minority faiths alike. The new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division
at HHS helps protect this fundamental human right, thank you. [applause] Roger Severino:
Thank you, next we will have Rabbi Mitchell Rocklin, who is president of the Jewish Coalition
for Religious Liberty and a Captain serving as an Army National Guard Chaplain. Rabbi Rocklin. [applause] Mitchell Rocklin:
Thank you, I just want to thank on behalf of JCR, Jewish Coalition of Religious Liberty,
the Trump administration, and HHS, for the opportunity to be here today and for the establishment
of this new division. Which is, as we’ve heard, already so critical
for prevent — for protecting the religious liberty rights of all Americans and preventing
discrimination. I also want to thank, there are many in the
audience who have been great allies of religious liberty, who have helped our organization
and many religious liberty causes for Jews and others. Howard Slough, who is our counsel, and a variety
of other allies here in the audience. I also — I want to acknowledge that this
struggle for us as an organization began with the case of Little Sisters of the Poor. The Rabbinical Council of America, on whose
board I sit represent about a thousand Rabbis in America. We issued a couple of resolutions in support
of changing the HHS mandate to support Little Sisters of the Poor and many other organizations
that were in their shoes as well. Being forced to choose between practicing
their calling and the work that they loved versus compromising their conscience when
it comes to a healthcare issue. Jewish Americans unfortunately have a lot
of experience over our history in America with this problem, in ways that are somewhat
different. But, many Jews face discrimination when trying
to get into the healthcare profession, whether getting into medical school or working in
hospitals. And the nations landscape is dotted with institutions
that have Jewish namesakes that were started by Jews partially for that reason in order
to get around problems of discrimination. And we really feel in the Jewish community
that this is something that no American should have to face, no one should have to experience
the terrible choice of having to choose between their conscience and a decision in healthcare
in any respect. So, today’s announcement of the establishment
of this division within HHS, I think is something that American Jews have a lot to look forward
to. And all Americans really have a lot to look
forward to when it comes to seeing our conscience rights defended. And particularly in healthcare, it’s my hope
and prayer that the principle of do no harm will be honored by HHS, not simply when it
comes to the excellent care that they help facilitate, but when it comes to the spiritual
realm as well. Finally, I think it’s unfortunate that too
often the issue of religious liberty has become seen as a partisan issue, and I hope, and
I pray that the establishment of this new division within HHS will help bring the debate
back to where it belongs, to one of consensus, to one of bipartisan agreement, to one where
we can all realize that to honor the conscience of every single individual American, despite
our disagreements and our differences, should really be first and foremost in our minds
when we provide services, particularly when we use the power and the resources that the
government can bring to bear. So, I just want to conclude with thanks from
JCRL, and from many allies within the Jewish community, to HHS, and to the administration
for this opportunity to work with appointees and with civil servants in the years ahead,
whether Republican or Democrat, to protect religious liberty for all Americans, thank
you. [applause] Roger Severino:
Next, we will have Montse Alvarado, the Executive Director of the Becket Fund for Religious
Liberty. Montse. [applause] Montse Alvarado:
Thank you, Roger. As he said, my name is Montse Alvarado, and
I am the the Executive Director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a non-profit law
firm based here in Washington D.C., that defends the religious liberty of all religious traditions. Our understanding and defense of religious
liberty comes from recognizing its important role as the core of our First Amendment freedoms. As the critical buffer between the state and
the individual, it is the expression of our founder’s acknowledgement and respect for
human dignity, and the essential and undeniable right to conscience free from government intrusion. I’m privileged to be here today to welcome
the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the Office of Civil Rights with Health
and Human Services. This division creates an opportunity for protection
for religious minorities and those who hold unpopular beliefs. This will allow them to hold the government
accountable when their religious beliefs are violated. It’s important to recognize that we’ve come
to a point where a division like this would be necessary, the robust American tradition
of religious liberty, and the founding of our country is one that celebrates our right
to be wrong. Where the solution to speech or beliefs we
disagree with isn’t silencing or censoring, but more robust discussion. This American tradition would never allow
us to let the government spend six years trying to strongarm a number — an order of nuns
who comply with a — to comply with a mandate that forces them to violate the core of their
religious vows. Vows they made when they decided to radically
change their lives and devote themselves to serving the elderly, poor, and dying. The Interim Final Rule released in October
was a great victory for common sense, the needless and divisive culture war waged by
the previous administration was lost. And the new rule struck the balance between
contraceptive access and religious liberty. By retaining the Obama administration’s contraceptive
mandate, but adding a targeted religious exemption. In the last 10 years, we saw rights that had
never been called into question attacked as illegitimate. Forcing Americans to choose between their
beliefs and their livelihood. Losing the foundational understanding that
fair and balanced solutions are possible. Human rights and civil rights groups fought
to secure these rights with bipartisan support two decades ago. It is my hope that common sense solutions
like these, rather than targeting American citizens because of their religious beliefs
will be the fruits of this new center. Thank you. [applause] Roger Severino:
Thank you, Montse. And now we have Dr. Everett Piper, president
of Oklahoma Wesleyan University. Dr. Piper. [applause] Everett Piper:
I just want to say how good it is to be here thanking Health and Human Services and the
Office of Civil Rights, rather than suing them. [laughter] [applause] As an educator, perhaps the one thing that
I can bring to this meeting today in closure, is a bit of a history lesson. Pedantic though it may be, bear with me for
a second. In 1776, Thomas Jefferson set the cornerstone
for our constitutional republic. And on that stone he carved these words; “We
are created, we are equal, we are endowed by God, not government with certain specific,
inalienable, incontrovertible, indisputable, undeniable rights.” And in 1791, James Madison wrote, the First
Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting
the free exercise thereof.” Madison knew that the essential and first
right of mankind was to pursue meaning and happiness. And he knew that this was the business of
the church and that of the individual conscience, not that of the king or of the courts. Congress was the protector of the first thing,
the first right, it was not it’s progenitor. The simplicity of Madison’s argument was quite
clear, the federal government should never pursue to define the matters of the church. It should never pretend to dictate, define,
contradict, or contravene religious belief. This is not the government’s business, but
rather it is the right and responsibility of the church and of the American people. Furthermore, and just as important, the government
should never presume to prohibit any citizen’s free expression of their faith. In other words, religion is not merely some
secondary matter relegated to one’s private life, but rather it is a public priority of
personal values and corporate morals and something that all faithful people live out on a daily
basis in the market square of life. “This is not the government’s business”, said
Madison. “And Congress should leave the church alone
and never presume to tell people what to believe or how to or how not to practice their faith.” 11 years later, Jefferson found it necessary
to reassure a small group of Christians at the Danbury Baptist church that they did not
have to fear government intrusion. “I contemplate with utmost reverence”, he
said, “that act with declared that the legislature should make no law respecting the establishment
of a religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation
of church and state.” Now, Jefferson’s message was unmistakable. There is a wall protecting the church and
it’s parishioners from the state, and no government should ever presume to breach that wall. This wall was not erected as a prison, but
rather as a fortress, it exists to protect eh church, not to confine it. Jefferson no more intended this wall to restraint
he church than he intended the walls of his own home to restrain him. As a house has a door by where you come and
go, engaging culture and doing your civic duty, so Jefferson’s wall had a door whereby
the church freely entered society to do its good work. The key here is this, the church holds the
key, not Congress. And the door is locked from the inside, not
the outside. Jefferson was clearly telling those concerned
in Danbury, Connecticut that this wall was built for the church’s benefit, not the government’s. My industry, higher education, shares the
same history and veneration of the church and its gospel. Harvard’s founding charter called for this,
“to lay Christ at the bottom is the foundation of all learning.” Brown University declared, “In god we hope.” Northwestern Shield to this day still bears
the inscription from Philippians, “Whatever things are true.” The University of California’s motto is fiat
lux, let there be light. Oklahoma Wesleyan University’s mission stands
for the primacy of Jesus Christ, the priority of scripture, the pursuit of truth, and the
practice of wisdom. This is our mission; this is our call; this
is our charter; this is our cause. But, today it seems we live in a time of great
reversals. Darkness has become light and light has become
darkness. Bitter has become sweet, and sweet has become
bitter. Lies are presented as truth, happiness it
seems dies at the hands of the hapless. We have lost clarity and conviction and we
are mired in confusion and contradiction. We hear in the streets and in these halls
of Congress, in this nation’s capital. “I can’t tolerant your intolerance, I hate
you hateful people, I’m sure that nothing is sure, and I’m absolutely confident there
are no absolutes.” [laughter] It’s self-refuting nonsense. It makes no sense. It’s political pablum at its worst. Liberty has become law, and freedom is crushed
by the fascist. A Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom
should not be necessary. All of government should be that division,
but at a time when Congress actually thinks it makes sense to tell nuns that they must
purchase contraception, forgive me, they’re nuns; they’re celibate. Why do they need any contraception, let alone
that which induces abortion? At a time when Congress thinks that its — makes
sense to tell these nuns that they must purchase contraceptions, and when our courts believe
that they have the right to redefine a very sacrament of the church, we need this commission,
we need this division, and I am grateful for it. Thank you. [applause] Roger Severino:
This has been a wonderful event. Thank you all for attending. We’re going to be posting up on the screen,
our new website, which will direct folks who are interested in finding complaints, how
to do so. We are open for business. I’d like to thank all the distinguished speakers. I’d like to thank all of you, and this concludes
our programming, thank you. [applause] Male Speaker:
Produced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at taxpayer expense.

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