The Department of Health and Human Services today released an update of the agency’s “accommodation” to its own anti-conscience mandate under Obamacare. It is another sorry episode in a line of bureaucratic tweaking and unfulfilled promises that again fails to address the serious religious liberty problems caused by the coercive HHS mandate.
In short, only the precious few employers who are deemed religious enough by the Obama Administration would be afforded true protection of their religious freedom and the ability to live and act according to their beliefs.
HHS’s “notice of proposed rulemaking” does not change the coercive mandate that is currently forcing countless employers to provide and pay for coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization in their employee health plans—regardless of moral or religious objection.
Instead, HHS feigns to extend protection of religious freedom by proposing a slight expansion to an offensively narrow religious exemption and providing an “accommodation” to certain qualifying non-profit religious groups.
The document is not even final. It is merely an update to the Obama Administration’s “advance notice of proposed rulemaking,” further sketching out its accommodation first released last March.
Even if today’s suggestions were adopted into law, the narrow exemption would cover only formal houses of worship and their integrated auxiliaries. It would fail to encompass many employers—and certainly all individuals—with moral or religious objections to complying with the mandate.
The latest proposal fails to protect businesses such as Tyndale House, the nation’s largest Bible publisher; or Hercules Industries, a family-owned and operated HVAC company; or Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts retailer—all of which seek to operate according to deeply held religious and moral beliefs.
In fact, the Administration explicitly states that it does “not propose that the definition of eligible organization extend to for-profit secular employers.”
Even for organizations that qualify for the accommodation, the government would still require material cooperation by employers and unnecessarily entangle them in providing services to which they hold moral or religious objections.
As the Alliance Defending Freedom rightly noted last summer, the Administration’s idea of accommodation “creates a federally imposed religious caste system.” The same holds true for today’s announcement. Again, only the precious few who are deemed religious enough by the Administration would be afforded true protection of their religious freedom and ability to live and act in accordance with their beliefs.
For everyone else, the Administration is clear: Get over your deeply held beliefs and get in line with the HHS mandate. The alternative is devastating fines to the tune of up to $100 per day per employee for offering non-compliant health plans.
Religious individuals and institutions should be free to exercise their religious beliefs within their private spheres as well as to engage publicly consistent with their religious beliefs. That includes the ability to practice one’s faith in serving the poor, caring for the sick, or running a business without being forced to violate one’s conscience.
Over this fact, more than 130 plaintiffs have gone to court in 44 lawsuits to demand protection from the mandate’s assault on religious liberty. So far, 14 for-profit plaintiffs have received rulings touching on the merits of their cases, with 10 receiving preliminary injunctions from the coercive mandate.
When the updated proposed rule is published in the Federal Register–which is likely to be next week–employers, individuals, and religious groups will have 60 days to submit comments. With over 200,000 comments received on the last go-round of regulatory “squid ink” alone, the Obama Administration will likely continue to play deaf to its serious assault on Americans’ first freedom.