WASHINGTON, DC, February 1, 2013 ― Today, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that earlier unnamed sources suggested would include an opt-out for “religiously affiliated” organizations. Legal scholars pouring over the 80 pages maintain that this did not happen. It appears that NPRM clarifies but changes almost nothing regarding the legal obligation of religious employers to provide employee insurance for free contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients that violate their conscience.
The original, longer description of “religious organizations” that qualified for an exemption has simply been replaced by IRS rules that narrowly apply to “employers that are primarily houses of worship” and their directly integrated entities.
In addition, nothing in the proposed rulemaking addresses protection of individuals’ conscience rights.
Judie Brown, president of American Life League, said, “All Americans, not just those in official religious organizations, are guaranteed freedom of conscience in their daily lives and work. This administration treats our country’s conscience like a jailor. If Obama now proposes releasing a few prisoners while denying freedom to everyone else, he will find that people of faith are not quite that easily fooled and will resist en masse.”
Mrs. Brown is not alone. Matt Bowman, senior legal counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, a public interest group heavily involved in the legal fight, put it this way: “The administration must immediately abandon the idea that it has the power to withhold or dispense our fundamental freedoms to whomever it chooses. The abortion-pill mandate is losing in court. The only acceptable solution is for the administration to obey the Constitution and its legal duty to protect religious freedom.”
A fraudulent accommodation
The administration’s misuse and definition of a “religious organization” certainly requires close scrutiny. When the Obamacare (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) rules were first announced in March of 2012, they created a firestorm that forced the administration to offer an accommodation. The accommodation turned out to be a fraud.
Religious organizations were given a one-year extension to comply. Millennia-old religious teaching would have to be redefined or abandoned by the faithful for the benefit of Obama’s brave new world. Even the HHS definition of religious practice itself prompted Cardinal Wuerl, of the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., to state, “HHS’s conception of what constitutes the practice of religion is so narrow that even Mother Teresa would not have qualified.”
Not only did the so-called accommodation not address religious freedom concerns, the administration actually expanded the mandate by using an accounting trick. It simply shifted the actual payment for contraception and sterilization directly from an individual employer to bundle it into all insurance policies.
It then claimed this ridiculous misdirection resolved freedom of conscience problems. The gimmick fooled no one: Employers and employees of faith were still the ones paying the bill for mandated services that violated their conscience that the insurance companies now were forced to include in policies.
This sparked over 40 religious freedom lawsuits against HHS by the Catholic Church, business owners, schools and nonprofits. To date, Obama’s administration is losing most of these suits but seems committed to using our tax dollars and the Eric Holder Justice Department to pit the president’s own vision for America against constitutional religious freedom all the way to the Supreme Court.
Freedom of worship?
President Obama uses the phrase “freedom of worship,” a phrase that many religious groups and legal scholars say demonstrates that Obama believes religious “freedom” extends only as far as the four inside walls of places of worship. The First Amendment protects exactly the opposite: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech.”
This ideology is demonstrated by the administration’s egregious argument in court that private business owners and employees have no right to conduct business according to their faith-based conscience.
Alan Sears, president of Alliance Defending Freedom, said in an open letter to faith community leaders: “The Affordable Care Act imposes a crisis of religious freedom that cannot permit compromise. Early advocates of the law, including Rep. Bart Stupak and Kristen Day of Democrats for Life of America, now publicly lament that the ‘HHS Mandate,’ because it covers not just contraception and sterilization but also abortifacient items, is an abortion mandate.”
The agencies involved include the Internal Revenue Service, Department of the Treasury; the Employee Benefits Security Administration, Department of Labor; Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services; and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Neither these agencies nor the government itself have any business picking and choosing who is allowed to exercise faith based on how they earn a living.
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