February 17, 2012, Vol. 5, No. 6
In this issue:
• Why Federal Mandate Still Threatens Religious Liberty
• Urge Congress to Protect Religious Freedom
• California Bishops United in Response to HHS Mandate
• What They Are Saying
Special Issue on the New Definition of Religious Employer
Because it is such a fundamental change to religious liberty as understood in the United States throughout its history, Public Policy Insights devotes its entire issue to the new HHS mandate. The rule to provide contraception coverage free of charge regardless of what our Church teaches ignores the wide latitude this nation has always given believers – from respect for conscientious objectors to not forcing 7th Day Adventists to work on the Sabbath, to the respect traditionally accorded church ministries that serve the common good.
Visit www.cacatholic.org for ongoing coverage of the controversial mandate and additional background information, links to political commentators, and official USCCB statements, bulletin inserts and documents. Action Alerts will be issued as opportunities become available – including targeted alerts to influence your particular representative. Thank you for your ongoing and strong support.
Why Federal Mandate Threatens Religious Liberty
The White House’s announcement last week, that it would require insurers instead of employers to pay for contraception, sterilization and abortifacients has not changed the very narrow definition of religious employer contained in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulations. The rule states that to be a religious employer an organization must "serve primarily persons who share the[ir] religious tenets."
In fact, the effort to remedy the situation announced by President Obama last week not only finalized the HSS rule but left unanswered critical questions, such as how self-insured organizations can comply if the mandate violates their religious beliefs. Many Catholic organizations – dioceses, hospitals and schools – are self-insured to avoid such conflicts with government mandates. Also open: how would HHS determine if an institution is “religious” enough to qualify as a religious employer? What other mandates might be imposed further down the road? How will insurance companies pay for coverage without passing costs on to employers?
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) summarized the continuing difficulties with the regulation in a bulletin insert (available in Spanish and English):
• The original rule that violated our religious liberty has not been changed, but finalized.
• HSS promised additional “accommodations” but only after the election in November.
• Assuming insurers will pay for requirement without passing the costs on to employers is naïve.
The controversial HHS mandate was first proposed last fall and implemented January 20 by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. A storm of protest followed because the rule forced religious institutions to pay for coverage that violates their beliefs. HHS exempted religious employers but defined them so narrowly that Catholic hospitals, charities, schools and other ministries would no longer qualify. President Obama's announcement leaves the new definition intact which opens the door to other mandates that might be issued by HHS under the new health care law.
Urge Congress to Protect Religious Freedom
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has promised to continue working on the mandate, but they are not required to take any more action. Under their process, discussions of the rule can continue for a year – well after the November Presidential election.
As with much in Washington, diligence in working with HHS must be parallel with a long-term legislative solution that would provide greater assurances that religions will continue to be allowed to follow their beliefs. Religious freedom – as expressed in the First Amendment to the Constitution - has always been one of the most cherished rights in this nation.
Please tell your representatives that this new definition of religious employer is unacceptable and inconsistent with the time-honored respect for pluralism in this nation. Click here for a prepared email you can send directly to your representative. You can also edit the email should you like to add additional information.
California Bishops United in Response to HHS Mandate
All California Bishops have voiced their strong opposition to the HHS mandate. For instance, Bishop Stephen Blaire of the Diocese of Stockton states, “The conditions of the mandate are unconstitutional and violate the First Amendment because the government is overreaching its power in legislating which Church ministries will be exempted and which ones will not. It is outside the power of government to define religion in any way whatsoever.”
Below are links to all of the California Bishops’ Statements on the HHS Mandate:
• Archdiocese of San Francisco – Archbishop George Niederauer
• Diocese of Fresno – Bishop Armando X. Ochoa
• Diocese of Monterey – Bishop Richard Garcia
• Diocese of Oakland – Bishop Salvatore Cordileone
• Diocese of Orange – Bishop Tod Brown
• Diocese of Sacramento – Bishop Jaime Soto
• Diocese of San Bernardino – Bishop Gerald Barnes
• Diocese of San Diego – Bishop Robert Brom
• Diocese of San Jose – Bishop Patrick McGrath
• Diocese of Santa Rosa – Bishop Robert Vasa
What They Are Saying
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archdiocese of Washington, offers an analogy of the government telling the news media: “…the reason we are so concerned is this attacks our basic freedom. To put it into a perspective that might be more appealing to media people, suppose the administration simply announced that it would have directives, mandates, and on Tuesdays and Fridays this is what you would speak about on the program. You'd be outraged. You'd say we're not going to do that. That violates our constitutional right.” See the entire video interview.
John Carr, executive director of USCCB’s Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development: “Instead of all the moral gymnastics, why don’t we say that religious institutions don’t have to do what they think is wrong.” (Quoted by Catholic News Service)
Washington Post Editorial: “In this circumstance, requiring a religiously affiliated employer to spend its own money in a way that violates its religious principles does not make an adequate accommodation for those deeply held views. Having recognized the principle of a religious exemption, the administration should have expanded it.”