Update on American HHS controversy

The Department of Health and Human Services has confirmed a regulation that will require businesses with over 50 employees to provide health insurance for birth control and surgical sterilization, even if they object to doing so for reasons of conscience.  The regulations includes exemptions for objecting “religious employers” (largely limited to houses of worship) and objecting religious non-profit organizations.  However, the continued demand that objecting business owners be forced to comply and the nature of the exemptions remain unacceptable to many religious organizations.  Speaking for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Eric Rassbach, Deputy General Counsel, said:  

When it comes to religious liberty, the Department of Health and Human Services is acting like a kid who doesn’t want to eat his lima beans. Our Constitution and laws require them to protect religious exercise, but they really don’t want to, so they are trying every trick in the book to avoid doing so. But we will keep suing until the courts make HHS comply with its obligations. [Becket Fund News Release]

The U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Committee has issued a report accusing the Obama administration and Department of Health and Human Services of “unprecedented abuse” of religious liberty.

There are now 61 civil suits filed against the regulation, with over 200 plaintiffs. [Becket Fund, HHS Information Central].  In one of them, a unanimous decision by the10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver has directed a lower court allow a civil suit brought by Hobby Lobby, a chain of arts and crafts stores.  The owners of the company object to being forced to provide embryocidal forms of birth control.  They are seeking an injunction against the enforcement of the regulation [The Tennessean].  A Largo, Florida, company with the same objections has been granted a preliminary injunction [Tampa Tribune], as has Geneva College, a Christian college in Pennsylvania [NCR].

American Catholic bishops have been adamant that the HHS regulation is unacceptable, once again declaring a “Fortnight for Freedom” from 21 June to 4 July to encourage opposition to it and support for freedom of religion.  Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, has been one of the leading opponents of the law.  The Archdiocese of New York is among the plaintiffs in the lawsuits against the regulation.  However, the Archdiocese of New York has, for years, been indirectly paying for health insurance for employees of the Catholic Health Care System that includes coverage for contraception and abortion.  The arrangement was approved by Cardinal Dolan’s predecessor, Archbishop John O’Connor, who died in 2000.  A spokesman for the Archdiocese stated that the coverage is provided “under protest.”  [New York Times]

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