As TheBlaze noted this morning, Vice President Joe Biden and Republican contender Paul Ryan clashed over abortion and religious freedom during last night's debate. Among the statements that were made, Biden defended the administration against claims that the government is forcing Catholic organizations to violate conscience with the enforcement of the controversial contraception mandate.
On Friday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a statement, fact-checking Biden's commentary and railing against the notion that institutions will be free and clear from the mandate's clauses.
In a statement published on the bishops' web site, church leaders sought to clarify Biden's words about the regulation and its impact on faith-based institutions. Contrary to what Catholic leaders have been fighting against -- even taking to the courts to try and prevent -- Biden said during the debate that hospitals, schools and other religiously-affiliated groups -- won't have "to pay for contraception."
"With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution—Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital—none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide," he said. "That is a fact. That is a fact."
Watch Biden's comment below (at the 3:50 mark):
The USCCB has come out strongly against Biden's statements, claiming that they are not based on "fact." Here's the statement that the church put out in response to his proclamation:
This is not a fact. The HHS mandate contains a narrow, four-part exemption for certain "religious employers." That exemption was made final in February and does not extend to "Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital," or any other religious charity that offers its services to all, regardless of the faith of those served.
HHS has proposed an additional "accommodation" for religious organizations like these, which HHS itself describes as "non-exempt." That proposal does not even potentially relieve these organizations from the obligation "to pay for contraception" and "to be a vehicle to get contraception." They will have to serve as a vehicle, because they will still be forced to provide their employees with health coverage, and that coverage will still have to include sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients. They will have to pay for these things, because the premiums that the organizations (and their employees) are required to pay will still be applied, along with other funds, to cover the cost of these drugs and surgeries.
USCCB continues to urge HHS, in the strongest possible terms, actually to eliminate the various infringements on religious freedom imposed by the mandate.
The Catholic Church, faith-based colleges and even some businesses have sued over the mandate, showcasing the fact that Biden's debate commentary on the matter is nowhere near as cut and dry as he claims. Based on currently regulations and a lack of specificity on behalf of the administration, the sentiment behind the bishops' claims is correct.
Faith leaders and free-speech advocates have also questioned the government's new-found involvement in defining religious groups -- something that they claim will inevitably result from officials' involvement in deciding which groups would and would not escape the mandate's requirements.