U.S. Rep. James Lankford, an Oklahoma City Republican seeking reelection in November, explained his motivation for joining a Rally for Religious Freedom in Oklahoma City this weekend.
He said, “Religious freedom is a core principle. Obviously, the founding of the country was based around religious freedom. You can go back to the very beginnings, 1620, and watching the transition of individuals who came here for the sole purpose of religious freedom and escape. This a country where it’s been very important, to Thomas Jefferson and writings from that era.
“Now, that’s being challenged … on multiple grounds. Most obvious of those is the HHS [mandate] ruling, telling religious organizations that they’re going to have to change their perspectives on contraceptives, on sterilization, on abortafacient drugs, or be fined.
“The real focus of that? A lot of people talk about contraceptives. The real focus is a religious liberty issue. Can this administration, or any future administration, say to a religious organization, ‘I know what your doctrine is, but we have a different doctrine.’ That religious organization has to change their doctrine to the administration’s doctrine, or we’ll fine as a federal government.
“Just Catholic hospitals are facing a $150 million fine next year, if they don’t change to the Obama doctrine for what their perspective is on contraceptives. That is a true religious liberty conflict there.
“Can an administration do that? I would disagree on that. Quite frankly, when these kinds of cases have gone all the way through to the court, the Obama administration has lost.”
Lankford pointed to a significant prior conflict between the Obama administration and a Missouri Synod (Lutheran) church school. He noted the Obama administration had opposed the firing of a private school teacher, explaining, “They claimed they had been fired for certain grounds, and the Missouri Synod school said no, they had been fired for different grounds and they’re a minister, and religious denomination has an ability to define who their ministers are.
“The Obama administration argued, ‘No that’s not true, this is normal standard practice and we’re going to stand up and tell this church who their ministers will be.’
“Well, the lower courts all stood by the Obama administration, and it went to the Supreme Court. … This Supreme Court threw that out 9-0. The Obama administration lost 9-0. Said no, churches have the inherent right to define who their minister is, and the government can’t step in and do that.
“If you’ve got Elena Kagan and [Sonia] Sotamayer voting against this administration, saying, ‘No, there’s religious freedom, and you’re fighting against it,’ I think it will be just as clear in future days dealing with the HHS mandate, as well. But we’re got to get to that.”
Turning to the issue of the controversial health care law itself, pending a U.S. Supreme Court decision in the next few days, Lankford agreed with analysts who say the states will have flexibility to address health care anew, if the High Court strikes down “ObamaCare” in whole or in part. He also said Congress should act:
“Congress should take up individual bills, shouldn’t try to do a big giant 2700 page bill to replace it. We should take up individual parts. There are serious issues about the health care delivery system in America. There are inequities there, so we should take them up a piece at a time, and allow people to debate them and work them out.
“We should also get back to the states. If you go back three years ago, four years ago, lots of states were looking at state-driven options, for how to deal with this.
“This is part of the issue with Mitt Romney’s argument, and everyone around him. Massachusetts, years ago, was experimenting with how do we address this issue, as a state.
“Multiple states have taken it up, Oklahoma with ‘Insure Oklahoma’ and all that we have experimented with. We need to give states more latitude to start having state solutions in this. They all stopped as soon as the President’s health care law started working through, three years ago.
“We need to restart on those, but that’s very difficult to do and it’s time consuming. The states should be able to pick up what they were already starting on, and be able to finish that. We also have responsibilities as a federal government to step in and take on some of these issues as well.”
Note: CapitolBeatOK interviewed the first term congressman at his downtown Oklahoma City office on Broadway (Automobile Alley).