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Obama ‘accommodation’ offers no fundamental change, USCCB attorneys say

Posted By May 17, 2012 | 12:55 pm | Featured Article #2
CNS PHOTO Washington (CNA/EWTN News) – The U.S. bishops are emphasizing that their opposition to the Obama administration’s contraception mandate is not about birth control or health care, but about the government’s attempt to impose its narrow definition of religion on the country. “Indeed, this is not about the Church wanting to force anybody to do anything,” said the administrative committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a March 14 statement. Instead, they explained, it is “about the federal government forcing the Church – consisting of its faithful and all but a few of its institutions – to act against Church teachings.”

Obama ‘accommodation’ offers no fundamental change, USCCB attorneys say
Editors: Adds detail on proposed rulemaking in final paragraph and adds Editor’s Note with information about submitting comments.
UPDATED version of HHS-COMMENTS of May 15, 2012:
By Nancy Frazier O’Brien
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Although the Obama administration’s proposed “accommodation” for religious employers to the mandate that contraceptives and sterilization be included in most health plans “may create an appearance of moderation and compromise,” it does not change the administration’s fundamental position, attorneys for the U.S. bishops said in comments filed May 15.
“We are convinced that no public good is served by this unprecedented nationwide mandate, and that forcing individual and institutional stakeholders to sponsor and subsidize an otherwise widely available product over their religious and moral objections serves no legitimate, let alone compelling, government interest,” said the comments filed with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Signed by Anthony R. Picarello and Michael F. Moses, general counsel and associate general counsel, respectively, for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the 21-page comments were in response to the administration’s “advance notice of proposed rulemaking” published March 16 in the Federal Register, which proposed new ways for religious organizations that have moral objections to providing free contraceptives to their employees to comply with the requirement.
Among the administration’s suggestions are having the costs covered by a “third-party administrator” of a health plan or “independent agency” that receive funds from other sources, such as rebates from drug makers.
The USCCB comments said the proposed changes would still require “conscientiously objecting nonexempt religious organizations … to provide plans that serve as a conduit for contraceptives and sterilization procedures to their own employees, and their premiums will help pay for those items.”
“As a practical or moral matter, none of (the approaches proposed by the administration) will solve the problem that the mandate creates for nonexempt religious organizations with a conscientious objection to contraceptive coverage,” the attorneys added.
The USCCB comments repeated several times that the best solution to their objections to the mandate would be its complete rescission.
“We believe that this mandate is unjust and unlawful — it is bad health policy, and because it entails an element of government coercion against conscience, it creates a religious freedom problem,” the USCCB attorneys said.
“These moral and legal problems are compounded by an extremely narrow exemption that intrusively and unlawfully carves up the religious community into those that are deemed ‘religious enough’ for an exemption, and those that are not,” they added.
The USCCB submission noted that HHS had not asked for comments on whether contraceptives and sterilization should be among the mandated preventive services for women under the health reform law or on the four-pronged definition of religious organizations that could be exempt from the requirement.
To be exempt from the requirement, a religious organization “has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and is a nonprofit organization” under specific sections of the Internal Revenue Code.
Both the mandate and the exemption are now final rules, “entirely unchanged from August 2011,” the USCCB said.
It warned that “many religious and other stakeholders with a conscientious objection to some or all of the mandate coverage are ineligible” for the exemption or the one-year “temporary enforcement safe harbor” established by the Obama administration. That safe harbor period is to begin Aug. 1, 2012.
“Absent a change of course by the administration or a court order granting relief, individuals, insurers, for-profit employers and many other stakeholders with a moral or religious objection to contraceptive coverage will be required in the next few months either to drop out of the health insurance marketplace, potentially triggering crippling penalties, or to provide coverage that violates their deeply held convictions,” the USCCB attorneys said.
Before it makes a final decision on its rules for ways religious employers could pay for the mandated contraceptive coverage, the Obama administration is seeking public comment until June 19.
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Editor’s Note: Comments on the proposed “accommodation” announced March 16 can be submitted via this website: www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=CMS-2012-0031-0001. Written comments also can be submitted by mail to: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Department of Health and Human Services, Attention: CMS-9968-ANPRM, P.O. Box 8016, Baltimore, MD 21244-1850. More information is available at by calling the Federal eRulemaking Help Desk at (877) 378-5457 and pressing 2. Or, go to the website www.regulations.gov, and write CMS-2012-0031-0001 in the search box.

PHOTO: Mark Kimble of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Kennesaw, Ga., stands with others during the “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” rally on the steps of the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta March 23. They were there to show support for religious freedom and opposition to a federal contraceptive mandate. (CNS photo/Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin)

‘Government forcing Church to act against teachings’

 

Washington (CNA/EWTN News) – The U.S. bishops are emphasizing that their opposition to the Obama administration’s contraception mandate is not about birth control or health care, but about the government’s attempt to impose its narrow definition of religion on the country.
“Indeed, this is not about the Church wanting to force anybody to do anything,” said the administrative committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a March 14 statement. The Administrative Committee, chaired by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the USCCB, is the highest authority of the bishops’ conference outside the semi-annual sessions of the full body of bishops.
Instead, they explained, it is “about the federal government forcing the Church – consisting of its faithful and all but a few of its institutions – to act against Church teachings.”
The bishops stated that the debate is not about the Church trying to ban access to contraception, which is already “ubiquitous and inexpensive.”
The HHS mandate controversy involves more than Catholics, they said, pointing out that it includes everyone who realizes that their beliefs may be the next target of government coercion.
They added that the debate is not a matter of political parties, nor is it “a matter of opposition to universal health care,” which the bishops have supported in some form since 1919.
Rather, the mandate is an “unwarranted” and “unprecedented” attempt by the government to redefine “who we are as people of faith and what constitutes our ministry.”
The bishops reiterated their call for the repeal of the federal HHS mandate that will require private health care plans across the country to offer coverage of contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates the consciences of those involved in providing the plan.
They explained that the mandate raises serious concerns about religious freedom that are not calmed by an extremely narrow exemption for religious organizations or by an “unspecified and dubious” promise of a future “accommodation” for other religious employers.
“Government has no place defining religion and religious ministry,” the bishops said.
They decried the administration’s attempt to draw a new distinction between “houses of worship” and “ministries of service,” explaining that this distinction creates a “second class” of citizens that are deemed unworthy to share in the “God-given, legally-recognized right” to be able to follow their beliefs.
They also warned that this redefinition of religion will spread throughout other areas of federal law, “weakening its healthy tradition of generous respect for religious freedom and diversity.”
In addition, the bishops explained, the mandate to violate Church teaching is an infringement upon the “personal civil rights” of those individuals who seek to act in accordance with their faith and moral values.
They stated that the regulation lacks even “the semblance of an exemption” to address the concerns of individual insurers who object to offering the coverage, employers who object to sponsoring it or employees who object to paying for it in their premiums.
The Catholic bishops said they are “strongly unified and intensely focused” on pursuing multiple avenues to defend religious liberty.
In addition to continuing efforts aimed at education and public advocacy, the bishops emphasized their willingness to “accept any invitation to dialogue with the Executive Branch.”
They also said that they are supporting legislation to restore religious freedom protections and will continue to explore “options for relief from the courts.”
They noted that the conference’s Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty will soon publish a document reflecting on the history of religious freedom in America, appraising a broad range of current threats to religious liberty and reinforcing the bishops’ clear intent to work with their fellow citizens in defending the fundamental pillar of American freedom.
The bishops called for additional “prayer and penance” from Catholics and “all people of faith” for the protection of religious liberty.
“Prayer is the ultimate source of our strength,” they said, “for without God, we can do nothing; but with God, all things are possible.”

– The full statement is available at www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/upload/Admin-Religious-Freedom.pdf.