While most Christian leaders and organizations are dissatisfied with President Obama's newly announced revision to the health care law mandating contraception coverage, some are hailing it as a big victory for religious liberty.
Over 30 Catholic, evangelical and mainline Protestant leaders and organizations on Friday called the tweaked plan "a sensible, common-ground solution," saying it will "protect the conscience rights of religious organizations and ensure that all women have access to contraception without a co-payment."
They applauded the White House "for listening carefully to the concerns raised by religious leaders on an issue that has provoked heated and often misinformed debate" and hailed the ruling as a "major victory" for religious liberty and women's health. "President Obama has demonstrated that these core values do not have to be in conflict."
Those who signed the statement included the Rev. Canon Peg Chemberlin, former president of National Council of Churches; Jim Winkler and Linda Bales Todd from General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church; the Rev. Richard Cizik and Dr. David Gushee from New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good; Senior Pastor Randolph Bracy, Jr. at New Covenant Baptist Church of Orlando in Fla.; Catholic lobby organization NETWORK; Institute Leadership Team of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas; and a few professors of law and theology from universities.
"We look forward to bringing the same level of passion displayed in this debate to other pressing moral issues that face our nation," they said.
Obama personally took the initiative to address the concerns of religious groups and crafted the solution, according to The Los Angeles Times. The move, which apparently seeks to pacify faith leaders in the run-up to the presidential election, comes a month after the Obama administration reaffirmed that religious employers, excluding churches, must provide coverage of contraceptive, abortifacient and sterilization services in their employee health plans.
Under the new plan, religious organizations such as hospitals and charities will not be required to pay for or provide contraceptive services to employees if they object to it. But women who work for such institutions will still have access to those services directly through the insurance company at no extra cost. President Barack Obama declared the regulation, standing next to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius in the White House press room Friday.
However, most Christian leaders and groups are not happy.
Melinda Delahoyde, president of the pro-life Christian group Care Net, called the new plan Obama's "political sleight of hand." She said in a statement Friday that she was "deeply disturbed that the president appears to be playing a cynical political game with the religious liberties of faith-based organizations."
Shifting the mandate to insurance companies rather than employers, she said, "represents a political sleight of hand that changes nothing and continues to infringe on the freedom of conscience of faith-based employers." It's not about money, she explained, "but about abridging the fundamental religious liberty of faith-based institutions by entangling them in practices which violate their convictions."
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said the revised mandate "does nothing to change the fundamentally anti-religious, anti-conscience and anti-life contraceptive mandate."
"They're missing the point when they say this is about contraception," CNN quoted Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski as saying. "This is about religious freedom. It's a sham to say contraception isn't widely available in this country."
Alliance Defense Fund Senior Counsel Doug Napier said, "It is still forcing people of faith to subsidize practices and treatments that violate their values, their morals, and their religious beliefs." Innocent lives are a blessing, not a burden, he emphasized. "The Obama administration is hiding behind the argument that it is better to eliminate babies before we incur economic 'cost,' but it is just another extension of ObamaCare – only now, it's a 'death panel at birth.'"
President Obama reportedly called Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, who heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, before announcing the revised plan, but it is not clear if he would support the plan. It's "a first step in the right direction," he said in a statement, adding that they are reserving judgment until they have the details of the new plan.