Koster should have appealed ruling on religious grounds

Sunday, April 14, 2013

I am very disappointed in federal Judge Audrey G. Fleissig's decision on SB749, a law I proudly supported and which I believe is a necessary protection for the religious freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services instituted a mandate requiring insurance plans to cover medications that conflict with religious beliefs held by many, and the purpose of SB749 was to provide a way for these Missourians to buy insurance without being forced to violate their religious ideals.

This simple bill would merely have ensured that insurance plans would be required to offer Missourians plans that do not contain this coverage if they have a religious objection to it. This provision would have protected a wide variety of religiously-affiliated organizations like hospitals, charities and churches. Those without religious objections would still be able to buy plans complying with the HHS mandate.

While I am disappointed the law was overturned, I am perhaps even more disappointed Attorney General Chris Koster refused to appeal this decision, in effect abandoning his responsibility to stand up for this law and for our religious liberties.

I believe the court and Attorney General Koster looked at this case in the wrong way. This is not just a simple conflict between state and federal laws; it is a First Amendment issue because it will have such a drastic impact on the free exercise of religion.

I know I am not alone in believing the HHS mandate is unconstitutional. The U.S. Constitution takes precedence over federal laws and bureaucratic rules, and that is why the Missouri Legislature worked so hard to pass SB749 -- it was our way of telling the federal government we would not allow Missourians' First Amendment rights to be encroached upon. This bill was not an attempt at state nullification of a federal law; it was our state standing up for our constitutional rights in the face of a federal mandate that is in clear violation of the Constitution.

Unfortunately, the district court decision in this case did not even examine the First Amendment implications of the HHS mandate. Instead, the judge looked to the Supremacy Clause and said the HHS mandate would prevail because federal laws are more powerful than state laws.

In essence, Judge Fleissig -- who was appointed by President Obama -- either missed or ignored the entire constitutional reasoning behind SB749. Unfortunately, Attorney General Koster -- who now has the governor's mansion in his sights -- appears to have fallen victim to the same faulty reasoning.

Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, is the state senator for Missouri's 27th District.

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