Standing Together for Religious Freedom and Welcoming the Announced Delay in Forcing Employers to Violate Their Consciences
On July 2, 2013, at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty joined over 100 prominent national religious leaders and scholars in releasing an open letter entitled Standing Together for Religious Freedom. The letter calls on the U.S. Administration and Congress to respect conscience rights and religious freedom threatened by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) contraceptive and abortifacient mandate. Despite the fact that the HHS Final Rule with the Guidance on the Temporary Enforcement Safe Harbor for Certain Employers, issued June 28, 2013, temporarily extended the “Safe harbor” (from faith-based agency implementation) until contract years beginning in 2014, the HHS, by its own admission, states that the Final Rule does little to narrow the breadth of this violation of freedom. Virtually all employers, including faith-based employers with few exempt agencies, are being forced to provide these morally offensive drugs, devices and procedures at no cost to employees. Archbishop Lori explained how this mandate has broad implications for all persons who respect freedom, regardless of a person’s faith, or even their lack of a faith: “As the Catholic bishops have said from the very beginning, the underlying issue with the HHS Mandate is not about any specific teaching. In fact, other signatories on the letter do not share our view on contraception and probably disagree with us in many other ways, but they understand the core religious freedom issue at stake here." http://www.usccb.org/news/2013/13-134.cfm.
On July 2nd the Administration announced that the mandate for employers of 50 or more employees to provide insurance coverage, including contraceptive and abortifacient coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), will not be enforced until January 2015 (from January 2014). There is no indication of the status of the mandate on individuals to purchase health insurance as mandated by January 2014. The Administration indicated that it would be providing proposed rules for comment on reporting requirements of employers and insurers pursuant to the PPACA: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2013/07/02/we-re-listening-businesses-about-health-care-law. However, a company which provides health insurance coverage for employees, regardless of the number of employees, continues to be bound by the HHS Mandate as of August 2012 (unless it is grandfathered or faith-based and exempt - constituting virtually few companies - or if it is faith-based and temporarily safe harbored).
The NCBC is a signatory to eleven amicus briefs in support of employers who object to being forced to violate religious freedom of conscience through these unjust provisions, and receives numerous calls from employers questioning, “What are we to do?” Employers always express concern for the well-being of their employees, citing the untenable position in which our government, founded on the right to protect this sacred freedom, has placed them. This 4th of July, more than ever, calls all people who respect our Constitution, regardless of their faith-tradition, to join together in prayer for the future of this great country.
May God Bless America!