(Photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
Over 160 officials from religious universities and academic centers signed a declaration denouncing President Barack Obama's new rule on coverage for contraception and abortive drugs as "unacceptable."
Though Obama offered last week what he considered a compromise on the mandate to provide contraception, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization to employees for "free," the new rule "changes nothing of moral substance and fails to remove the assault on religious liberty and the rights of conscience," Catholic University of America President John Garvey and three professors from Harvard University, Princeton University and Notre Dame asserted in a statement.
That statement has so far been signed by over 160 law professors, program directors and deans who believe the president's compromise does not go far enough.
The list of signers comprise of faculty members largely from universities and colleges of Catholic founding. However, professors from institutions such as Brigham Young University and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary joined with the Catholic institutions to support the statement.
Conservative legal firm The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty organized the effort behind the statement and the first lawsuit against the contraception mandate.
Emily Hardman, communications director for The Becket Fund, said it was easy to gather support for the statement.
"The intellectual American could see through this immediately," Hardman told The Christian Post.
The Department of Health and Human Services had reaffirmed last month a health care rule requiring faith-based nonprofits, with the exception of churches, to cover contraceptive, abortifacient and sterilization services in their employees' health care plans. This mandate would affect hospitals, charities and schools that are religiously affiliated.
The religious community, including Catholics and evangelicals, expressed outrage and concern over the violation of their religious freedom.
The uproar prompted Obama to introduce a tweaked rule last week. Noting that his administration is mindful of the right to religious freedom, Obama proposed that insurance companies directly provide the services to women for free if they work at a religious organization that has moral objections to those services.
Few are convinced that the new plan resolves anything.
Hardman said those close to this debate know that the compromise is not free. Religious institutions can expect to pay higher insurance premiums if the cost of contraception coverage is shifted to insurers, she noted.
"Somebody still pays," Hardman said. "People have to pay the premiums and that's the religious institutions."
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) released a statement to the public Friday stating it was not consulted to create the accommodation for religious institutions.
As a result, the compromise "still mandate[s] that all insurers must include coverage for the objectionable services in all the policies they would write," the USCCB stated.
The USCCB also noted that self-insuring religious employers and religious insurance companies are still not exempt from this mandate.
White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew defended the compromise on Fox News Sunday saying the solution reached is consistent with the principles of free preventive health for women and religious liberty.
Hardman said the government does not have the right to force religious groups to act against their conscience for any reason.
The Becket Fund is circulating a second petition protesting the mandate in hopes of collecting a million signatures. Hardman said the petition has drawn "thousands and thousands" of signatories.