(Photo: REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian)
Evangelical and Catholic groups on Friday blasted the Obama administration over its decision not to expand religious exemption from the new health care law that will require them to provide insurance plans covering contraceptives, sterilization and some abortion-causing drugs.
Christian groups joined together in condemning "Obamacare" after the Health and Human Services announced its decision, which officials claimed was reached after reviewing more than 200,000 comments from interested parties and the public.
"Despite the fact that certain drugs and devices approved by the FDA can work after conception to destroy a newly developed baby, the Obama Administration mandate still forces all insurance plans to carry these drugs and devices even if employers are morally opposed," Tom McClusky of Family Research Council Action said in a statement.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said religious groups would have one additional year to comply with the mandate (until August 2013 rather than August 2012). "I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services."
But McClusky said the one-year delay "does nothing to change the anti-religious, anti-conscience, and anti-life contraceptive mandate, rather it only postpones its implementation until after the presidential election."
The new rule also mandates that religious groups with a one-year reprieve in the meantime be "forced to tell their employees where to obtain contraceptives," FRC Action pointed out. "This completely violates the conscience rights of many Americans. As we approach the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade tomorrow may all voters who respect life take note of the Obama Administration's ardent policies against life and religious liberty and vote accordingly in November."
The National Association of Evangelicals also said it was "deeply disappointed" by the White House decision that was announced Friday. Freedom of conscience is a "sacred gift from God, not a grant from the state," said Galen Carey, vice president for Government Relations at NAE. "No government has the right to compel its citizens to violate their conscience. The HHS rules trample on our most cherished freedoms and set a dangerous precedent."
The HHS policy includes a thin exemption for religious organizations that focus only on religious services to their own members.
"The exemption leaves the vast majority of religious employers who serve the entire community unprotected," the NAE stated. "If this narrow definition of 'religious employer' is adopted in other areas of law, it may lead to further erosion of the conscience protections Americans have historically held."
FRC Action also contended that the mandate, issued in August, violates the principles of the Church Amendment which protects conscience rights for those who object to contraceptives and other services on moral or religious grounds,. "Additionally, the U.S. government already funds domestic family planning at a level of $1.9 billion annually."
Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York also lambasted the Obama administration's health care law. "Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience," he said in a statement. "This shouldn't happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights."
He encouraged his community to tell their elected leaders that "you want religious liberty and rights of conscience restored and that you want the administration's contraceptive mandate rescinded."
Religious groups are not likely to comply, the Washington-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has hinted.
Given the anger among religious groups, they might choose to pay fines rather than act against their conscience, some believe.¬¬