Religious leaders ask HHS to broaden birth control exemption

A coalition of nearly 150 religious leaders, led by conservative Protestants, have petitioned the Obama administration to broaden the exemption … Continued

A coalition of nearly 150 religious leaders, led by conservative Protestants, have petitioned the Obama administration to broaden the exemption that allows churches and some religious organizations to avoid a controversial new mandate that all health care insurers provide free contraception coverage.

In a letter sent Monday (June 11) to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the 149 religious leaders note that they hold differing views on “the moral acceptability” of birth control and on the viability of various administration proposals to allow faith-based groups to bypass the mandate for contraception and sterilization coverage.

But they said they share a strong objection to the language that defines which “religious” groups are eligible for an exemption, saying the definition creates a “two-class system” of religious groups: churches, which qualify under the wording of the exemption, and “faith-based service organizations,” which may or may not qualify.

“This two-class scheme protects those religious organizations focused on activities directed inward to a worship community while offering little religious freedom protection to the many religious organizations that engage in service directed outward,” the letter says.

The letter says that “both worship-oriented and service-oriented religious organizations are authentically and equally religious organizations. … We deny that it is within the jurisdiction of the federal government to define, in place of religious communities, what constitutes true religion and authentic ministry.”

Diverse critics of the mandate have found a common rallying point in opposition to the exemption definition. The regulation currently states that to qualify as exempt, an organization must be dedicated to promoting its religious values, must primarily employ and serve people who share the group’s beliefs, and must be a nonprofit.

The administration says the regulation would go beyond houses of worship to cover most religious groups, except for universities and hospitals. Officials also say the federal regulation, which is based on a definition used in contraception mandates in some states, would not be applicable in anything beyond the birth control policy.

But religious groups remain wary, at best, of such promises, and are pressing the White Houses to broaden the exemption or drop the mandate altogether.

The letter to Sebelius was organized by Stanley Carlson-Thies, an architect of President George W. Bush’s faith-based office, and includes Ronald J. Sider, head of Evangelicals for Social Action; Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary; Samuel Rodriguez, head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; and David Neff, editor-in- chief of Christianity Today.

A dozen Catholic groups and individuals — mainly conservative colleges and activists — signed the letter but no Catholic bishops joined in. The bishops have been at the forefront of efforts to alter or overturn the contraception mandate, and are pursuing their own high-profile course of legal action and political lobbying. The Catholic hierarchy has also made it clear that it has problems with the mandate that go well beyond the exemption.

The bishops are meeting in Atlanta this week to discuss their strategy against the mandate, which they are framing as a campaign for religious freedom.

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  • cricket44

    In other words, “please, oh please, give us money AND let us discriminate and violate the religious rights of others.” It won’t surprise me if the government caves, but they shouldn’t.

  • tiger2012

    Actually, cricket44, this is not about receiving government funds, as the mandate applies to ALL institutions, private, public, receiving government funds, and completely independent, and it is the government that is violating the religious rights of others.

    In the mandate, the government dictates the beliefs that a religion-and individuals – can hold integral and obligatory, not only to hold true within their own homes, but live publicly. It then dictates that these beliefs can only be practiced by a very narrow group of religious instead of by all persons who hold these beliefs to be true, and if you want to live your beliefs outside of the home, you must pay crippling fines (thousands of dollars per employee per year by 2014), or be forced out of business.

    To make an analogy the mandate is essentially like asking practicing Muslims and Jews- and any of their charities, schools, or businesses run by them (though not mosques and synagogues)- to pay for the production of ham to distribute to their employees. If they don’t they are fined to the point of being shut down or reducing employees and services.

  • cricket44

    The health benefit is one the employee has *already earned.* It is simple discrimination to provide benefits for some employees but not others and then hide behind religion. The employees have religious rights as well.

    But, hey, if you are down with Jehovah’s Witnesses being able to deny coverage for blood transfusions…