USCCB Says Administration Mandate Violates First Amendment Freedoms Of Religious Organizations And Others
WASHINGTON— The general counsel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops states that the current proposed revisions of the Obama Administration’s contraceptive mandate are “an unprecedented …violation of religious liberty by the federal government” and must be changed. The statement is in comments filed March 20 regarding the mandate, which requires most health plans in the United States to cover abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, sterilization procedures, and related education and counseling.
The comments, made on the USCCB’s behalf by Anthony R. Picarello, USCCB associate general secretary and general counsel, and Michael F. Moses, associate general counsel, note a number of continuing problems with the regulations, which had been the subject of earlier rulemaking and comment by the USCCB. The comments state:
First, like earlier iterations of the regulation, the latest proposal requires coverage of items and procedures that, unlike other mandated “preventive services,” do not prevent disease. Instead, they are associated with an increased risk of adverse health outcomes, including conditions that other “preventive services” are designed to prevent.
Second, no exemption or accommodation is available at all for the vast majority of individual or institutional stakeholders with religious or moral objections to contraceptive coverage. Virtually all Americans who enroll in a health plan will ultimately be required to have contraceptive coverage for themselves and their dependents, whether they want it or not.
Third, although the definition of an exempt “religious employer” has been revised to eliminate some of the intrusive and constitutionally improper government inquiries into religious teaching and beliefs that were inherent in an earlier definition, the current proposal continues to define “religious employer” in a way that, by the government’s own admission, excludes (and therefore subjects to the mandate) a wide array of employers that are undeniably religious. Generally the nonprofit religious organizations that fall on the “non-exempt” side of this religious gerrymander include those organizations that contribute most visibly to the common good through the provision of health, educational, and social services.
Fourth, the Administration has offered what it calls an “accommodation” for nonprofit religious organizations that fall outside its narrow definition of “religious employer.” The “accommodation” is based on a number of questionable factual assumptions. Even if all of those assumptions were sound, the “accommodation” still requires the objecting religious organization to fund or otherwise facilitate the morally objectionable coverage.
Fifth, the mandate continues to represent an unprecedented (and now sustained) violation of religious liberty by the federal government. As applied to individuals and organizations with a religious objection to contraceptive coverage, the mandate violates the First Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.
“We are willing, now as always, to work with the Administration to reach a just and lawful resolution of these issues. In the meantime, along with others, we will continue to look for resolution of these issues in Congress and in the courts,” Picarello and Moses write.
The full text of the comments is available at: http://www.usccb.org/about/general-counsel/rulemaking/upload/2013-NPRM-Comments-3-20-final.pdf.
The North Dakota House of Representatives voted on HCR 3037. The measure would allowed the voters of North Dakota to decide whether to remove prejudicial language rooted in anti-Catholicism from the state’s constitution.
The measure failed by a tied 47 – 47 vote.
Contrary to some claims made by opponents, approval of the measure would not have mandated funding for religious schools. Nor is removal of the language necessary before the legislature could support parental choice. It merely would have removed the prejudicial language and returned the issue to the people.
The North Dakota Catholic Conference provided written testimony to the House Judiciary Committee in support of HCR 3037.
Noting its anti-Catholic origins, its current prejudicial interpretation, and the fact that the provision was imposed upon the people of North Dakota as a condition for statehood, the conference stated: “HCR 3037 would give North Dakota voters an opportunity to remove a shameful blemish from our state’s constitution and give the people of North Dakota the right to decide for themselves questions related to public education and nonpublic schools.”
Read the full testimony here: http://ndcatholic.org/2013testimony/hcr3037house/index.html
Many North Dakotans may not know it, but the state constitution contains a provision rooted in ugly anti-Catholic bigotry.
Anti-Catholic (or in some cases anti-Irish) politicians in the 19th century sought to curb Catholic influence by insisting that new states adopt provisions banning support for “sectarian” schools. As Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer once pointed out, “sectarian” was widely understood at the time to only mean Catholic. It did not mean non-secular. In most cases, adoption of these provisions, known as “Blaine Amendments,” were imposed as a requirement for statehood.
The U.S. Supreme Court has called these provisions a legal doctrine “born of bigotry” that “should be buried now.”
HCR 3037 takes up that call and would remove this shameful stain in our state constitution.
The constitutional amendment, if adopted, would not provide funding for religious-affiliated schools. It would merely remove this vestige of prejudice and allow the people of North Dakota to decide what is in the best interests of our children.
The resolution is currently before the House Judiciary Committee.
On March 4, 2013, Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) and 50 other House members introduced H.R. 940, the Health Care Conscience Rights Act of 2013. Archbishop William E Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, welcomed its introduction with the following statement:
“I am grateful to Congresswoman Black and other sponsors for their leadership today. I welcome the Health Care Conscience Rights Act and call for its swift passage into law. While federal laws are on the books protecting conscience rights in health care, this Act would make such protection truly effective. This overdue measure is especially needed in light of new challenges to conscience rights arising from the federal health care reform act.”
In a February 15 letter, Archbishop Lori urged Congress to enact effective conscience and religious freedom protection provisions like those of H.R. 940 as part of “must-pass” legislation for continued funding of federal programs.
A Capitol Hill press conference featuring four plaintiffs advocating for their conscience rights and religious freedom will take place at 10 am (EST) Tuesday morning, March 5, 2013 in Rayburn House Office Building, Room B-318.
The text of Archbishop Lori’s letter is available at www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/conscience-protection/upload/Letter-from-Archbishop-Lori-to-Congress.pdf
WASHINGTON—Congress should incorporate two provisions that strengthen conscience protection in any proposed funding bills in the weeks ahead, said Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore in a February 15 letter to Congress. Both provisions were part of the House draft of the Labor/HHS appropriations bill.
Archbishop Lori, who chairs the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), wrote that he feared “the federal government’s respect for believers and people of conscience no longer measures up to the treatment Americans have a right to expect from their elected representatives. The new approach even threatens to undermine access to quality health care, by telling providers as well as those who offer or purchase insurance that they need to drop their participation in the health care system if they want to preserve their religious and moral integrity. A restoration of full respect for one of our nation’s founding values is urgently needed.”
The first provision supported by USCCB would extend longstanding federal policy on conscience to the new mandates for private health plans created by the Affordable Care Act. The other clarifies nondiscrimination laws to improve protection of individuals and institutions that decline involvement in abortion, allowing them to seek vindication in court.
Archbishop Lori wrote that they perceive “a new, more grudging attitude in recent years toward citizens whose faith or moral principles are not in accord with the views of the current governing power. And while the mandate for coverage of abortion-causing drugs, contraceptives and sterilization is hailed by some as a victory for women’s freedom, it permits no free choice by a female employee to decline such coverage for herself or her minor children, even if it violates her moral and religious convictions.”
Archbishop Lori said it was discouraging to find this coercive element in the latest proposed rulemaking by the Obama administration in response to widespread criticism of its original mandate. He reiterated the hope of Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of USCCB, who said that while the new proposal falls short of meeting the bishops’ concerns, the bishops remain committed to engaging with the administration and all branches of government to address the issue.
Full text of the letter is available online: www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/conscience-protection/upload/Letter-from-Archbishop-Lori-to-Congress.pdf
The Senate Judiciary Committee has amended Senate Bill 2252, which would have provided protected legal status to sexual acts outside of marriage, to a bill that would declare that the State of North Dakota does not condone discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Additional language in the amendment attempts to limit its effect by stating that the bill does not create any legal rights or protections. Nevertheless, the North Dakota Catholic Conference worries that the language could viewed as permission to – and justification for – state agencies, boards, and state higher education institutions to adopt their own policies without legislative approval and without any guarantee of conscience and religious protections. This has already started to occur.
Contact your senator and ask him or her reject giving or authorizing special legal protection for sexual acts and vote NO on SB 2252 in any form.
Contact by email or phone: 1-888-NDLEGIS (635-3447) or 701-328-3373 (local).
HHS Proposal Falls Short In Meeting Church Concerns; Bishops Look Forward To Addressing Issues With Administration
The Feb. 1 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services related to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) shows some movement by the Administration but falls short of addressing U.S. bishops’ concerns.
“Throughout the past year, we have been assured by the Administration that we will not have to refer, pay for, or negotiate for the mandated coverage. We remain eager for the Administration to fulfill that pledge and to find acceptable solutions—we will affirm any genuine progress that is made, and we will redouble our efforts to overcome obstacles or setbacks,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), in a February 7 statement. “Thus, we welcome and will take seriously the Administration’s invitation to submit our concerns through formal comments, and we will do so in the hope that an acceptable solution can be found that respects the consciences of all. At the same time, we will continue to stand united with brother bishops, religious institutions, and individual citizens who seek redress in the courts for as long as this is necessary.”
He listed three key areas of concern: the narrow understanding of a religious ministry; compelling church ministries to fund and facilitate services such as contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization that violate Catholic teaching; and disregard of the conscience rights of for-profit business owners. These are the same concerns articulated by the USCCB Administrative Committee in its March 2012 statement, United for Religious Freedom.
Cardinal Dolan said the new proposal seemed to address one part of the church’s concern over the definition of a church ministry but stressed that “the Administration’s proposal maintains its inaccurate distinction among religious ministries.
“It appears to offer second-class status to our first-class institutions in Catholic health care, Catholic education and Catholic charities. HHS offers what it calls an ‘accommodation’ rather than accepting the fact that these ministries are integral to our church and worthy of the same exemption as our Catholic churches.”
Cardinal Dolan highlighted problems with the proposed “accommodation.” “It appears that the government would require all employees in our ‘accommodated’ ministries to have the illicit coverage—they may not opt out, nor even opt out for their children—under a separate policy,” he said.
He also noted that “because of gaps in the proposed regulations, it is still unclear how directly these separate policies would be funded by objecting ministries, and what precise role those ministries would have in arranging for these separate policies. Thus, there remains the possibility that ministries may yet be forced to fund and facilitate such morally illicit activities.”
Cardinal Dolan also said the proposal refuses to acknowledge conscience rights of business owners who operate their businesses according to their faith and moral values.
“In obedience to our Judeo-Christian heritage, we have consistently taught our people to live their lives during the week to reflect the same beliefs that they proclaim on the Sabbath,” Cardinal Dolan said. “We cannot now abandon them to be forced to violate their morally well-informed consciences.”
WASHINGTON—The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued the following statement, October 12. Full text follows:
Last night, the following statement was made during the Vice Presidential debate regarding the decision of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to force virtually all employers to include sterilization and contraception, including drugs that may cause abortion, in the health insurance coverage they provide their employees:
“With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution—Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital—none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.”
This is not a fact. The HHS mandate contains a narrow, four-part exemption for certain “religious employers.” That exemption was made final in February and does not extend to “Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital,” or any other religious charity that offers its services to all, regardless of the faith of those served.
HHS has proposed an additional “accommodation” for religious organizations like these, which HHS itself describes as “non-exempt.” That proposal does not even potentially relieve these organizations from the obligation “to pay for contraception” and “to be a vehicle to get contraception.” They will have to serve as a vehicle, because they will still be forced to provide their employees with health coverage, and that coverage will still have to include sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients. They will have to pay for these things, because the premiums that the organizations (and their employees) are required to pay will still be applied, along with other funds, to cover the cost of these drugs and surgeries.
USCCB continues to urge HHS, in the strongest possible terms, actually to eliminate the various infringements on religious freedom imposed by the mandate.
For more details, please see USCCB’s regulatory comments filed on May 15 regarding the proposed “accommodation”:www.usccb.org/about/general-counsel/rulemaking/upload/comments-on-advance-notice-of-proposed-rulemaking-on-preventive-services-12-05-15.pdf