House members seek to repeal administration's 'Religious Freedom Tax'

By Benjamin Mann

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Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner and Rep. Diane Black introduce the Religious Freedom Tax Repeal Act at a July 10, 2012 press conference in Washington, D.C.

Two U.S. representatives have introduced a bill to stop the federal government from taxing religious employers that decline to cover contraception and abortion-causing drugs in their health plans.

The legislation will protect religious groups, as well as private businesses with “moral and religious objections,” from being heavily taxed for refusing to pay for insurance “that violates their religious or moral views,” Representative James Sensenbrennner (R-Wis.) said on July 10.

Rep. Sensenbrenner is joined by Representative Diane Black (R-Tenn.) in sponsoring the “Religious Freedom Tax Repeal Act.” The “tax” it would repeal is part of the federal health care reform law, whose regulatory fines were upheld in the June 28 Supreme Court decision that cast them as a form of taxation.

At Tuesday's press conference, they explained that the law known as “Obamacare” would allow the Internal Revenue Service to collect $100 per day for each employee of an organization that fails to cover services such as contraception and sterilization without a co-pay.

The tax penalty is part of the Health and Human Services contraception mandate, currently being challenged by over 50 organizations in 23 lawsuits.

Sensenbrenner described the tax as “severe” and “confiscatory.” A religious institution with 50 employees, he calculated, would be forced to pay nearly $2 million in taxes each year for refusing to provide contraception.

“If these taxes are levied, and they are enforced, there will be no religious-affiliated institutions left in this country,” the Wisconsin congressman warned.

These institutions play a vital role in the nation's life, he said, and should not be “taxed out of business” for following their moral convictions.

Rep. Black told reporters she was co-sponsoring the bill because of her belief “that freedom of religion is an inalienable gift from our creator, and not a revocable privilege from our government.”

“The U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision on Obamacare leaves intact a serious assault on our religious freedom,” the Tennessee congresswoman said, referring to the HHS mandate and the tax penalties associated with it.

She explained that the Religious Freedom Tax Repeal Act would give religious groups, and other morally-opposed employers, relief from the “impossible choice” they could otherwise face – between following their principles, and paying a “devastating tax” likely to prove unaffordable for many.

The text of the act would “exempt employers from any excise tax and certain suits and penalties in the case of a failure of a group health plan to provide coverage to which an employer objects on the basis of religious belief or moral conviction.”

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