13 Attorneys General Urge Exemption for Businesses Under HHS Mandate

A coalition of 13 attorneys general issued a collaborative letter to the Obama administration, urging it to provide exemptions to privately owned businesses under its Department of Health and Human Services' contraception mandate, arguing that it violates religious liberties otherwise.

The letter argues that the White House's modifications made to the HHS mandate reward exemptions to religious nonprofits, large faith-based hospitals and universities, but fail to reward exemptions to for-profit business owners who object to the mandate on conscience grounds.

Religious institutions argue that the HHS mandate violates their religious liberties because it requires them to provide health care coverage for contraceptives and abortifacients.

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"We believe the proposed regulations do not remedy the legal infirmities in the original HHS mandate," the letter reads.

The letter goes on to list three problems with the proposed regulations of the HHS mandate, the first being "there is no compelling reason to refuse to extend to all religious-affiliated nonprofits the exception that is available to houses of worship."

"The government must show with particularity how its interest 'would be adversely affected by granting an exemption.'"

The letter also accuses the administration of playing a "shell game," or a deceitful gambling game, by allegedly rewarding free insurance to some nonprofits.

The attorneys general contend that rarely does insurance come for free, and allowing some nonprofits to shift their costs onto insurance companies does not alleviate the mandate's burden on religious liberties.

Lastly, the letter argues that the administration's early February "compromise" on the HHS mandate fails to address exemptions for profiting businesses.

"We fear that the HHS mandate is the first of many regulations under the Affordable Care Act that will conflict with legal protections for religious liberty and the right of conscience," the letter adds. "We respectfully submit that [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act] requires you to adopt the broadest possible religious exceptions to the HHS mandate."

Attorneys general of Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia all signed the letter.

They submitted the letter during the comment period which followed the White House's announcement in February of a "compromise" to the HHS mandate for religious institutions.

Although some churches have applauded the Obama administration's proposed changes to the mandate, others have argued that they do not sufficiently respect religious freedom in the country because they fail to offer exemptions to privately-owned, for-profit businesses.

"[February's] proposed rule does nothing to protect the religious liberty of millions of Americans," Kyle Duncan, general counsel for The Becket Fund, a conservative legal group representing many religious groups in lawsuits regarding the HHS mandate, told LifeSiteNews in February.

"The rights of family businesses like Hobby Lobby are still being violated."

There are currently 53 cases filed by religious institutions, including Hobby Lobby, Eternal World Television Network, and Houston Baptist University, against the HHS mandate

Many of the lawsuits filed by nonprofit religious groups have been rejected in court because the rules of the mandate have yet to be finalized.

For example, last week the an Alabama federal judge dismissed the lawsuit of the Eternal World Television Network, a major Catholic television network, against the Department of Health & Human Services, arguing that because the rules of the mandate had not been finalized, the lawsuit was not "ripe" for review.

The comment period for the proposed exemptions of the HHS mandate ends April 8.

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