Assault on the 1st Amendment Will Hurt the Economy
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The Fiscal Times
August 2, 2012

Not so long ago, people would often say that the American attitude toward the Bill of Rights, and especially the First Amendment, was one of reverence, and perhaps even awe.  These days, the First Amendment right to freedom of religion is coming under increasing assault from government at all levels – and it will cost us dearly, in both dollars and declining liberty.

Yesterday, the controversial contraception/sterilization mandate imposed by the Department of Health and Human Service went into effect, requiring employers to provide birth control and sterilization services at no charge to employees.  Only places of worship received an exemption from this requirement, but not their affiliated organizations, such as hospitals, schools, and charities.  Nor did the HHS mandate give exemptions to privately owned businesses whose owners have religious views that bar the use and facilitation of such products and services.       

Until now, no one had ever thought to force Americans into direct participation in birth control and sterilization services.  Now, however, the federal government has nearly unlimited power to impose such requirements, thanks to the massive new regulatory scheme within the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly known as ObamaCare.  

Businesses of 50 or more employees have struggled for two years to determine the cost of future employment and expansion with the large ambiguities still present in the ACA, which will eventually get clarified through more top-down regulation within HHS.  This large gap in the ability to accurately project compliance costs and risks from the ACA as well as Dodd-Frank and other legislation since the 2008 financial crisis has contributed significantly to the obstacles for job creation in the American economy.

While compliance costs remain difficult to project, non-compliance costs are easier to project.  The Independent Womens Forum, which opposes the HHS mandate as well as the ACA in general, pointed out in a campaign launched yesterday that the regulation calls for fines of either $100 per worker per day during non-compliance, or up to a $1,400 fine per worker each year for not providing birth control or sterilization services free of charge to employees. 

How do those non-compliance costs impact businesses and other organizations that cannot comply because of their religious beliefs?  Under the assumption that the annual fine would be the most likely to be assessed, the IWF points out that a school with 100 employees would face a $140,000 bill from the IRS for refusing to obey the mandate.  Colleges that employ 280 people would see a bill closer to $500,000.  Hospital systems that employ thousands of doctors, nurses, orderlies, and office personnel would have to shell out millions in fines each year.

These exorbitant fines would push these employers even further toward the option of simply canceling health insurance coverage and paying those penalties instead.  That option would be cheaper than covering the cost of health insurance on its own, let alone the additional fines for non-compliance on the HHS mandate.  While this would make financial sense for employers, it will significantly increase the cost of Obamacare, as those employees would receive taxpayer-funded subsidies to buy individual policies in the new exchanges.

Political analyst Edward Morrissey has been writing and blogging since 2003. He is also a senior editor at Hot Air, part of the Townhall/Hot Air group of conservative publications, and hosts a weekly radio show in Minnesota.