HHS Proposed Rule Jeopardizes Religious Freedom
The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), representing 40 denominations with more than 45,000 congregations, urges President Obama to drop the proposed Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rule on contraceptive and abortifacient coverage announced today. At the very least he should exempt all religious employers who object on grounds based in religiously informed conscience. The minor modifications announced today still require many Americans and their religious organizations to either violate faith and conscience or face heavy financial penalties.
"This is bad news for all who love religious freedom," said Leith Anderson, NAE President. "The Obama administration should have done the right thing and dropped the contraception mandate, or at least should have exempted all religious organizations."
Under the proposed rule, objecting religious organizations are still required to pay for an insurance policy that then triggers coverage for contraception and abortifacients under a second policy. "This is a distinction without a difference, a work-around that doesn't work," added Anderson.
Additionally, religious organizations that are organized on a for-profit basis are not granted the accommodation offered to religious non-profits. Bible publishers such as Tyndale House would be subject to the rule.
The rule does remove one objectionable part of the current rule, which limits the definition of "religious employer" to groups that serve and hire only their own members and focus mainly on inculcation of religious doctrine. That definition excluded even many churches that serve their larger communities. However, the new definition still narrowly limits the definition to organizations registered with the IRS as churches, excluding most religious non-profits.
Numerous lawsuits against the HHS mandate continue to work their way through the courts. That litigation will continue, and the matter is now ripe for judicial review. The NAE filed several friend-of-the-court briefs in cases related to the contraception mandate, defending the right of employers to exercise their freedom of conscience in health care coverage.
"Early indications are that the administration's rule eventually will be struck down as a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act," said Anderson. "The administration could save itself much wasted effort and could save scarce taxpayer dollars by simply exempting all organizations that have religious-based conscience objections to the mandate."
"The desire to provide contraceptives to all Americans should not and cannot override the deep religious convictions of so many Americans."
Religious Employers Remain Unprotected in Contraception Rule (February 16, 2012), http://www.nae.net/resources/news/727-press-release-religious-employers-remain-unprotected-in-contraception-rule
Evangelicals Disappointed with White House Decision on Conscience Protection (January 20, 2012), http://www.nae.net/resources/news/715-press-release-evangelicals-disappointed-with-white-house-decision-on-conscience-protection
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"The United States has a long and strong tradition of tax free housing allowances for our military and ministers. Let's expect that one judge will not be able to end this valuable way of blessing those who serve so many and are often paid so little. The Court of Appeals can uphold the present long term law."