Disappointed that regulation will not expand exemption, only modifies ‘accommodation’
Extending ‘accommodation’ to exempted businesses reduces religious freedom
More thorough study and detailed comments to come
WASHINGTON–Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it is issuing an additional set of interim final rules to implement its requirement that health plans, including employer-sponsored plans, provide for sterilization, contraception, and drugs that can cause an abortion. In response, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), provided the following statement:
“The Administration is once again revising its regulations on the HHS mandate. We will study the regulations carefully and will provide more detailed comments at a later date. In keeping with our practice, we will evaluate the regulations according to the principles set forth in ‘United for Religious Freedom,’ a March 2012 statement of the USCCB Administrative Committee that was later affirmed unanimously by the body of bishops at the General Assembly of June 2012.
“On initial review of the government’s summary of the regulations, we note with disappointment that the regulations would not broaden the “religious employer” exemption to encompass all employers with sincerely held religious objections to the mandate. Instead, the regulations would only modify the “accommodation,” under which the mandate still applies and still requires provision of the objectionable coverage. Also, by proposing to extend the “accommodation” to the closely held for-profit employers that were wholly exempted by the Supreme Court’s recent decision inHobby Lobby, the proposed regulations would effectively reduce, rather than expand, the scope of religious freedom.”
In a letter sent July 14 to all U.S. Senators, Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore stated their “strong opposition to the misnamed ‘Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act of 2014’ (S. 2578).” Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Lori chair the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities and Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, respectively.
“Though cast as a response to the Supreme Court’s narrow decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the bill ranges far beyond that decision, potentially attacking all existing federal protections of conscience and religious freedom regarding health coverage mandates,” they wrote.
The two bishops identified several areas of concern with the bill, including its unprecedented curtailment of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993; its potential for overriding other federal conscience protections, including the Hyde-Weldon amendment on abortion; its application to coverage mandates beyond the HHS contraceptive mandate; its application to employers beyond for-profit businesses; and its denial of religious freedom for employees and their minor dependents, not just employers.
“In short, the bill does not befit a nation committed to religious liberty. Indeed, if it were to pass, it would call that commitment into question. Nor does it show a genuine commitment to expanded health coverage, as it would pressure many Americans of faith to stop providing or purchasing health coverage altogether. We oppose the bill and urge you to reject it,” they wrote.
Full text of the letter is available online: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/upload/07-14-14-S-2578-Cardinal-O-Malley-Archbishop-Lori-to-Senate.pdf
As early as this week, the Senate may vote on a bill by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act (S. 2578). This measure would not only reverse the recent Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision, but go far beyond. S. 2578 negates any right that employers, insurers or employees may have, under Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) or any other federal law, to opt out of federally mandated coverage.
Please do what you can to urge people to oppose S. 2578. See the NCHLA Action Alert at:nchla.org/actiondisplay.asp?ID=311.
This misnamed measure could potentially empower federal officials to mandate abortion or any other item in all health plans, forcing Americans to violate their deeply held religious and moral beliefs on respect for human life.
As soon as the U.S. Supreme Court issued the Hobby Lobby decision, critics of the decision began misrepresenting the opinion and its consequences. If a person were to believe some of the stuff appearing newspapers, press releases, and web sites, five Catholics on the U.S. Supreme Court declared that all corporations are persons under the Constitution and that these corporations now have a constitutional right to impose their religious beliefs on others, including their employees. The truth is something different.
The Court’s opinion did not deem corporations to be persons under the Constitution. It merely concluded that the language and history of a statute passed by Congress made the statute applicable to closely-held corporations. It was hardly a sweeping opinion granting expansive corporate rights.
That statute is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). It was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993 after Congress passed it almost unanimously. It says a federal policy cannot “substantially burden” a person’s religious freedom, unless it serves a “compelling state interest” in a way that is “least restrictive” of that freedom.
Following the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration decided that it had the authority to force family businesses to provide contraceptives at no cost to its employees, even if the family had religious objections to providing such services. Hobby Lobby and the other challengers objected to just four of the twenty required contraceptives because those four may operate after the fertilization of an egg, effectively acting as an abortifacient.
Some critics of the decision have called the Court “anti-science” because it did not look at studies purportedly showing that the four drugs only work to prevent fertilization. The Obama Administration, however, conceded that the four drugs may result in the destruction of an embryo. It is not the role of the Supreme Court to bring up and examine facts that are not in dispute. The Court was not being anti-science. It was respecting the judicial process.
The Court did not decide whether the Administration had a “compelling interest” in requiring employers to provide cost-free access to the four drugs. It did not have to make that decision because the burden imposed on the companies for not providing the four drugs was clearly substantial – fines in the millions of dollars – and because the government had a variety of other methods at its disposal to provide women the four drugs at no cost without requiring direct involvement by the companies.
It is important to remember that this decision is not about the Constitution. The Court was applying a unique set of facts – these four drugs, the particulars of the contraception mandate, and these three family businesses – to a specific law – the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. People who do not like the decision should not blame the Court. It was Congress that overwhelmingly passed RFRA and the Obama Administration that so clearly disregarded it when it conjured up the mandate.
A lack of understanding of the law might be excusable if it was not coupled with not-so-thinly-veiled hostility toward the Catholic Church. From the Huffington Post, to a full-page advertisement in the New York Times, to a weekly columnist in North Dakota’s own Fargo Forum, anti-Catholicism, America’s last acceptable prejudice, rears its ugly head again.
Apparently unable to understand the law or direct their displeasure at the Obama Administration, these new Know-Nothings blame the five Roman Catholics consisting of the Court’s majority in the opinion. (A sixth Catholic, Justice Sotomayor sided with the minority.) If you don’t like the outcome, blame the Catholics. If you don’t understand the law, blame the Catholics.
For the record, neither the owners of Hobby Lobby or the other businesses involved in the case are Catholic. Nor was Congress controlled by Catholics when it passed RFRA in 1993. Nor, as some have alleged with conspiratorial overtones, did the Catholic Church finance Hobby Lobby’s legal challenge. But the record, like the law and the rest of the facts, are of no concern to those whose single focus appears to be hostility toward religion or a fanaticism for cost-free abortifacients.Christopher Dodson, Executive Director North Dakota Catholic Conference Read other columns . . .
USCCB President, Diverse Religious Leaders Come Together To Urge Congress To Protect Religious Freedom Restoration Act
All religious faiths, including the most vulnerable, protected by federal law
Americans should be free to live and work according to their faith
July 1, 2014
WASHINGTON—A coalition of leaders of diverse U.S. religious denominations and faiths, including Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has announced that they “are united in [their] staunch support” for protecting the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which passed with nearly unanimous bipartisan support in 1993. The coalition sent a letter to Congressional leadership June 30 asking that they “not amend or repeal RFRA, one of our nation’s most vital legal protections for the religious freedom and rights of conscience of every person of every faith.”
“RFRA is a highly flexible legal standard that protects the rights and liberties of individuals of all religious faiths, including the most vulnerable,” said the letter. “In the United States, freedom of religion has always included – and should always include – the right to live out one’s religion and act according to one’s conscience outside the walls of one’s house of worship.”
They added: “For over two decades, RFRA has protected Americans of all faiths from government coercion. Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, and others all benefit when powerful government officials know that, as President Bill Clinton stated when he signed RFRA, government must meet ‘a very high level of proof before it interferes with someone’s free exercise of religion.’”
Signers of the letter included leaders of the Assemblies of God (USA), the Church of God in Christ, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, the Rabbinical Council of America, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America and the Wesleyan Church.
Full text of the letter follows:
RE: Protecting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993
Dear Speaker Boehner, Minority Leader Pelosi, Majority Leader Reid, and Minority Leader McConnell:
We are leaders of diverse faith communities representing over 100 million Americans. Our faith communities worship in many different ways, and we have different views on many things. But in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in favor of Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores), we are united in our staunch support for maintaining all of the existing provisions and protections of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA). RFRA is a highly flexible legal standard that protects the rights and liberties of individuals of all religious faiths, including the most vulnerable.
The Supreme Court affirmed that all Americans – including family business owners – should be free to live and work according to their faith and receive the protections afforded by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. When President Clinton signed RFRA into law over twenty years ago, he finalized the work of overwhelming bipartisan majorities in the United States House and Senate. Only three Members of Congress voted against RFRA. Not one of Congress’s 535 Members suggested that this landmark new law would not protect a person’s free exercise of religion if she chose to provide for herself, her family, and her employees by starting a business.
In the United States, freedom of religion has always included – and should always include – the right to live out one’s religion and act according to one’s conscience outside the walls of one’s house of worship. Every single day, millions of Americans are motivated by their faith to go and serve the neediest among us. The good works of these individuals of faith can be seen in soup kitchens, hospitals, schools, hospices – and, yes, family-owned businesses.
For over two decades, RFRA has protected Americans of all faiths from government coercion. Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, and others all benefit when powerful government officials know that, as President Bill Clinton stated when he signed RFRA, government must meet “a very high level of proof before it interferes with someone’s free exercise of religion.”
We have come together to write this letter with one specific plea: Do not amend or repeal RFRA, one of our nation’s most vital legal protections for the religious freedom and rights of conscience of every person of every faith.
Changing RFRA because some disagree with one particular application of the law would set a dark precedent by undermining the fundamental principle of religious freedom for all, even for those whose religious beliefs may be unpopular at the moment. Congress has never passed legislation with the specific purpose of reducing Americans’ religious freedom. It should not consider doing so now.
Freedom of religion, like freedom of speech, must stand for all Americans, for all time.
Statement by Christopher Dodson, Executive Director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference on Hobby Lobby Ruling
Statement by Christopher Dodson, Executive Director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference on Hobby Lobby Ruling:
Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case is an important step toward re-securing the religious freedoms upon which our country was founded and that are essential to human dignity.
No one should be required to give up their religious freedoms as a condition for running a business. In a country founded on the principles of both economic liberty and religious freedom, the two should not be incompatible.
Moreover, people have a natural right to pursue economic opportunities, as well as a right to provide public services. Denying this right to people who hold sincere religious beliefs is an offense to the dignity of the human person and ultimately undermines community.
While today’s victory is limited in its scope to certain for-profit companies, let us hope that it indicates that religious freedom will be secured for those who provide charitable and other services as well.
From the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today in favor of Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties means “justice has prevailed,” said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. The Court ruled that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “preventive services” mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as applied to these employers to the extent that it would have forced them to provide insurance coverage for drugs and devices that violate their religious convictions on respect for human life. The statement follows:
“We welcome the Supreme Court’s decision to recognize that Americans can continue to follow their faith when they run a family business. In this case, justice has prevailed, with the Court respecting the rights of the Green and Hahn families to continue to abide by their faith in how they seek their livelihood, without facing devastating fines. Now is the time to redouble our efforts to build a culture that fully respects religious freedom.
“The Court clearly did not decide whether the so-called ‘accommodation’ violates RFRA when applied to our charities, hospitals and schools, so many of which have challenged it as a burden on their religious exercise. We continue to hope that these great ministries of service, like the Little Sisters of the Poor and so many others, will prevail in their cases as well.”
As courts across the country, including the U.S. Supreme Court, take up challenges to the HHS Mandate, they – indeed, all of us – could learn a lesson from an event from Anglican history.
In 1847, the Anglican vicar George Gorham sought the vicariate for a small parish in Devon, England. The Anglican bishop for the region, Henry Phillpotts, interviewed Gorham and found him to be unsuitable for the position because Gorham rejected the sacramental view of baptism and did not believe in baptismal regeneration. Phillpotts considered Gorham’s views as inconsistent with Anglican theology.
Gorham eventually appealed to a secular court which awarded him the position in 1850. The Gorham Judgment caused an uproar in the Anglican Church. For some, it represented inappropriate interference by the state into ecclesiastical affairs. For others, it confirmed their suspicions that the Church of England was more an arm of the state rather than a church in succession with the apostles. The affair was one event that led to many, including Henry Manning and John Henry Newman, to become Roman Catholics.
The Gorham Judgment was possible, of course, because the Church of England was – and still is – the “established church” of England. The Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the U.S. Constitution are supposed to prevent interference by the government into religious affairs in our country. Nevertheless, in its defense of the HHS Mandate, the Obama Administration has opined that the religious objections held by Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor are not, in fact, religious objections.
In the case involving for-profit entities headed to the Supreme Court, the Administration claims that because Hobby Lobby puts money into a general fund to finance health care for their employees and because the employees choose whether to use the coverage for abortifacients, the injury to the religious rights of Hobby Lobby is too “attenuated” and remote.
Remoteness is, however, a religious question. Indeed, volumes of Catholic moral theology have been written on the subject. Undoubtedly, there are some who would agree with the Obama Administration that the decision by an employee to use an abortifacient is so removed from Hobby Lobby’s act of funding the health care coverage that Hobby Lobby should not feel like it violated its religious tenets. What ultimately matters, though, is not what others think, but what Hobby Lobby’s owners think. The Obama Administration position amounts to telling Hobby Lobby, “We know what is morally right and wrong more than you do.”
The Administration’s position for non-profits like the Little Sisters of the Poor is no better. The Administration attempted to create an “accommodation” for religious entities that are not places of worship. The accommodation provides that the religious entities do not have to pay for the contraceptives directly. Instead, they will be covered directly by the insurance companies or administrators. In order for the religious entity to take advantage of this accommodation, and before the insurer can provide the contraceptives, the entity has to complete a specified government form.
If the government form was only a notice to the federal government that the entity seeks the accommodation, there might not have been a problem. However, as numerous courts have agreed, the form is really a permission slip allowing the insurer to provide the objectionable coverage.
To moral theologians the dilemma is clear. If you cannot morally do a wrongful act you also cannot help someone else to do it by giving them legal permission to do so. To the Little Sisters of the Poor and many other Catholic entities, completing the form would make them complicit in something to which they morally object. The Obama Administration, however, despite admitting that without the form the insurer cannot provide the contraceptives, argues that completing the form would not violate the religious beliefs of the Little Sisters of the Poor.
All Americans should be troubled by the Administration’s attempt to impose its moral and religious analyses. Like the court in the Gorham case, the government’s position amounts to nothing more than the assertion that they know religion better than the rest of us.
Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference