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New HHS rules still problematic for religious liberty

religious liberty

When a law is revised eight times, it’s worth asking whether or not it should ever have been enacted in the first place.

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a new rule regarding its requirement for certain faith-based non-profit organizations and closely held for-profits to provide abortion-causing drugs and devices to their employees through their health plans. This is the eighth revision to the Health and Human Services Mandate. And regrettably, the government still falls short of understanding the concerns surrounding religious liberty. We are pleased that HHS recognizes that they cannot force some of our nation’s faith community to violate their consciences on a matter as significant as life, but we are deeply disappointed that they still believe they should be the arbiters of the line between what constitutes protected religious activity and what does not.

This new regulation was drawn up partly in response to the Supreme Court’s decision protecting Hobby Lobby and other faith-based businesses from the HHS mandate to provide these items to their employees. The Administration also felt the new regulation was necessary because many faith-based organizations complained that they were being treated differently from other faith-based organizations in the application of the original regulation. These groups rightly complained that the administration had taken on itself the task of determining which faith-based groups qualified for exemption from the mandate, mostly “houses of worship.” All others were required to submit a form justifying their claim for exemption and authorizing the government to contact their insurer to arrange for the provision of these drugs and devices.

The new rule does little to change that dichotomy. All it does is move the line. Non-exempt faith-based organizations, i.e., just about everyone except “houses of worship,” will still be required to submit paperwork to the government declaring their religious claim of exemption. The government has resorted to shuffling paperwork, not ceasing its conscience-paving ways. The new rule no longer puts these organizations in the position of authorizing the government to contact their insurer to require the provision of these abortion and contraceptive items. But the result is the same. Upon notification by the organization, the government will take it on itself to notify the organization’s insurer and require provision of these items. In other words, if you do not meet the government’s classification as an “exempt” organization, your insurer will still be providing abortion and contraceptive services to your employees, regardless of your objection.

Essentially, the administration has set itself up as the grand inquisitor, determining who is religious enough to merit the government’s benevolence and who is not. The religious liberty violations that led to countless court cases, remains. Some of the non-favored organizations still affected by this rule have been providing faith-based ministry for more than 100 years. Their claims of faith-informed conscience objections are well established and deserve unqualified, unquestioned accommodation in the same way “houses of worship” receive them. If “houses of worship” and similar groups are exempted from having these items provided to their employees, these other groups should receive the same exemption. A second proposed rule stipulates the regulations for defining what constitutes a closely-held for-profit company, a move in response to the government’s loss in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., case earlier this summer.

The Administration’s new rule for the HHS Mandate has not alleviated our concerns about its disregard for religious freedom. The rule reveals the administration remains committed to advancing sexual liberty over First Amendment protected religious liberty. The rule still runs afoul of faith and conscience in the following ways:

● It empowers the government to decide whose faith-driven activity is religious enough to merit its exemption.

● It requires taxpayers to cover the cost of abortion-causing drugs and devices.

● It violates the administration’s commitment in the original passage of the ACA not to include abortion in its approved plans.

● It forces some faith-based organizations with clear conscience objections to choose between violating their consciences regarding abortion or contraception and government prosecution.

As Christians, we can respond in the following ways:

● Remember that God is aware. He has not abandoned His people.

● Pray that God will give understanding to those continuing to try to force people of faith to violate their consciences.

● Pray that God will help Congress respond in a way that will assure conscience protections.

● Call your congressman and senators and ask them to act on behalf of people of faith. You can get their contact information here.

● Write a letter to the editor of your local paper explaining why you oppose the new regulation.

● Contact the White House and express your opposition in a courteous but firm manner.

●Contact any ministries or businesses that you know are affected by the mandate and let them know you are praying for them.

● Pray that God will raise up the leaders our nation needs to restore legal protections for the unborn at any stage of life.

religious liberty

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