The the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is frustrated over a regulation in President Obama's health care legislation -- so much so that the group is accusing the government of religious discrimination.
The religious coalition issued an "urgent" bulletin that was distributed at Catholic churches across America on Sunday, saying that the health care measure, which requires coverage of controversial contraceptives, "poses an unprecedented threat to individual and institutional religious freedom." Read the bulletin here:
The mandate, clearly controversial because of the Church's stance on abortion and the like, would require all private health care insurance plans to cover contraceptives that are approved by the FDA. This would, of course, include ulipristal, which has the potential to terminate a pregnancy before or after an embryo implants in the womb. CNS News has more:
Under the regulation, the bishops said, Catholic hospitals, Catholic charitable institutions, and Catholic universities and colleges would be forced to choose between dropping all health-care coverage for their workers or paying for health-care services that violate the teachings of the church.
Beyond that, the bishops said, the proposed regulation violates the freedom of conscience of individuals and private insurance companies that believe paying for or purchasing sterilizations and contraceptives is wrong.
To help combat this regulation, the bulletin asked recipients to visit a web page on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (U.S.C.C.B.). Here, an email message can be sent to the Department of Health and Human Services, letting the government know of one's opposition to the measure. Currently, the regulatory change is under a public comment period that ends this Friday.
In comments that the bishops, themselves, prepared, they wrote that the government's religious exemption for the provision was so narrow that it wouldn't even cover Jesus, himself:
HHS has concluded, for example, that a church is not a religious employer if it (a) serves those who are not already members of the church, (b) fails to hire based on religion, or (c) does not restrict its charitable and missionary purposes to the inculcation of religious values. Under such inexplicably narrow criteria—criteria bearing no reasonable relation to any legitimate (let alone compelling) government purpose—even the ministry of Jesus and the early Christian Church would not qualify as “religious,” because they did not confine their ministry to their co-religionists or engage only in a preaching ministry.
The document goes on to claim religious discrimination, saying that the provision explicitly discriminates against Catholicism.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Bishop David A. Zubik reiterated these statements, claiming that the penalty for imposing these regulations could be steep for both Catholic health care providers and society, alike. In a letter to federal and state lawmakers, he said that the provision is "an attack on Catholic beliefs and the religious liberty of Catholics to adhere to their beliefs." He continued:
"This mandate would apply in virtually every instance where the Catholic Church serves as an employer, requiring the Catholic church to violate its own tenets by forcing Catholic entities to provide contraception and sterilization coverage."
Considering the strong response this regulation has given and the obvious religious issues associated with the mandate, it will be interesting to see how the government responds, if at all, to these concerns.