(Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
The White House is currently in talks with various faith groups about the administration's mandate requiring employers to provide health coverage that includes contraception, sterilization and some abortion-inducing drugs. Some of these faith groups have said, in public statements and in communications with The Christian Post, that no progress has been made toward an acceptable accommodation.
World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization, said in an email to The Christian Post that they have not made any headway. Those who are helped by World Vision are not required to be, or become, a Christian in order to receive their assistance. Because of this, World Vision does not qualify for an exemption to the mandate.
"We hope that the Administration will shift course and self-correct to affirm and clarify existing religious freedom as protected by the First Amendment and subsequent Supreme Court rulings, as well as religious hiring protections articulated in the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act," said Kent R. Hill, senior vice president for World Vision's International Program Group.
Stanley Carlson-Thies, president of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance (IRFA), also sees little effort on the part of the Obama administration to work toward a new solution.
"Officials say they are working hard to develop a genuine solution for non-exempt religious employers that reject having to include contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs, in their health plans. Yet there is no sign that the administration is willing to abandon its flawed framework," he wrote on Monday in an e-newsletter.
IRFA is one of the groups that have been invited to the discussions with the White House.
President Obama announced a proposed accommodation on Feb. 10. Religious institutions with objections to the birth control mandate would not have to pay for insurance that covers contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, but insurance companies would have to provide the coverage at no additional cost to any of their employees that request it.
This proposal was widely touted by Democrats, such as Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, who had raised objections to the original proposal. In a Sunday column, Dionne complained that Catholic bishops are only opposed to the revised mandate because they are engaged in election year politics.
"The bishops should ponder how they transformed a moment of exceptional Catholic unity into an occasion for recrimination and anger," Dionne complained.
Many of the faith groups have pointed out, though, that Obama's Feb. 10 speech has not even been put into effect with an executive order. Indeed, only five days later, Health and Human Services put the original executive order into effect and wrote in the summary that the regulation will go into effect "without change."
Besides the fact that Obama's Feb. 10 press conference did not carry the force of law and the regulation went into effect without Obama's proposed revisions anyway, many faith groups are objecting to the proposal even if it were to become part of the birth control mandate.
One complaint is that insurance companies would be offering services religious organizations find objectionable exactly because they have objections. So, it is still through the actions of the faith groups that the services they find objectionable are being offered.
Additionally, faith groups worry that they would still be paying for the services through higher premiums. Since, under the mandate, insurance companies would have to offer the services without charging a co-pay, insurance companies would have to raise premiums on everyone, including the employer share, to pay for the services.
A second issue raised with the White House is the status of religious institutions that self-insure. Even if Obama's proposed revision were to be codified in the law, religious organizations that self-insure would essentially be the insurance company required to provide birth control services.
A third issue raised with the White House has to do with the very premise upon which the religious exemption is based, namely, that the religious freedom clauses of the First Amendment only protect religious activities aimed at co-religionists, such as worship services, and would not protect religious activities aimed at those who do not share their faith, such as helping those in need.
A group of about 40 Catholic bishops are gathering in Washington, D.C., this week to meet with the White House. They issued a five-page statement Wednesday arguing that the birth control mandate is a violation of religious freedom.
"We wish to clarify what this debate is – and is not – about," the bishops wrote. "This is not about access to contraception, which is ubiquitous and inexpensive, even when it is not provided by the Church's hand and with the Church's funds. This is not about the religious freedom of Catholics only, but also of those who recognize that their cherished beliefs may be next on the block. This is not about the Bishops' somehow 'banning contraception,' when the U.S. Supreme Court took that issue off the table two generations ago. Indeed, this is not about the Church wanting to force anybody to do anything; it is instead about the federal government forcing the Church – consisting of its faithful and all but a few of its institutions – to act against Church teachings."