Just over a year ago, the voters of Florida accorded me the singular honor of serving as their Chief Financial Officer. Those of us fortunate enough to serve at this moment in history have the opportunity, as well as the obligation, to promulgate public policy that sustains a climate of fiscal integrity, defines the proper role of government in the lives of our fellow citizens, instills a culture of ethical policy development and, above all, upholds the Constitution.
As has been widely reported, the Obama Administration recently announced a mandate as part of new rules required under Obamacare. That decision was nothing short of a breach of a Constitutional boundary. Strong-arming religious hospitals, schools, charities, and other health and social service providers into offering services in their insurance plans that are antithetical to certain core beliefs violates religious liberty.
Tens of millions of people are served nationally by religious-based charities that offer food, housing, social services, and adoption support.
Here in Florida, the Roman Catholic community alone supports four universities, 36 high schools, and 164 elementary schools, giving hope and opportunity to more than 110,000 students and nearly 7,000 teachers.
Eleven acute care hospitals, 10 nursing homes, and 11 additional service organizations such as hospices, senior and assisted living housing programs, and home healthcare services are operated by the Catholic Church. Catholic social welfare services in Florida assist more than 240,000 of our friends and neighbors annually. The Catholic Church is not alone in these endeavors, as people of many faiths put their beliefs in practice throughout our State.
In an attempted retreat in the face of great public outcry, the Administration shifted course by directing insurance companies to provide services to employees of church-affiliated organizations. This shift in position does not absolve the Administration of the mockery that has been made of our First Amendment rights and long-standing traditions of faith. Moreover, it forces religious organizations to be complicit in the Administration’s assault on our Constitution and the religious rights of the American people.
We have seen this Administration repeatedly and egregiously upend the traditions and tenets of our past. For far too long we have reacted only when it strikes a chord too close to home. We have allowed ourselves to be pitted against one another and cynically manipulated for the narrow objectives of a select few.
The Administration has offered what the president is calling an accommodation. I believe we elect our leaders to uphold the Constitution, not accommodate it. We must not allow government to trample on our fundamental rights of personal faith, religious liberty, and freedom of conscience.
As Americans, it is our obligation to do all we can to stop the usurpation of our constitutional rights. Allowing for federal power over religious organizations would give the federal government the ability to offer or withhold religious status. Americans deserve full protection of religious beliefs, not a false compromise.
The First Amendment guarantees our right to religious freedom as well as the right “ . . . to petition the Government for a redress of grievances . . .” Those words, written 236 years ago, ring loudly and clearly today as we face continued assaults on our constitutional rights.
This is not a time for ambivalence. This is a time for action. This is the time for the American people to demand that this Administration rescind all mandates that infringe on our constitutional rights.
Jeff Atwater is the Chief Financial Officer of the state of Florida. A statewide elected official and officer of the Florida Cabinet, he oversees the Department of Financial Services.
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