Bishops: Obamacare Rule Targets Catholics, Threatens Religious Freedom

Monday, 26 Sep 2011 09:23 AM

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U.S. Catholic bishops have issued a plea to the faithful across the country to object to an Obamacare directive on contraceptives and sterilizations that the bishops contend “poses an unprecedented threat to individual and institutional religious freedom” and violates freedom of conscience.

The rule’s religious exemption is so narrow that even Jesus wouldn’t meet the standard, the bishops allege. The proposed rule under President Barack Obama’s 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act specifically targets Catholics and violates their First Amendment right to freedom of religion, the bishops insist.

The appeal, which the bishops issued through an insert to parish bulletins nationwide Sunday, lambastes a Health and Human Services department rule “requiring rule requiring almost all private health plans to cover contraception and sterilization as ‘preventive services’ for women.”

“The rule includes a religious exemption so extremely narrow that it protects almost no one. It covers only a ‘religious employer’ that has the ‘inculcation of religious values” as its purpose, primarily employs and serves persons who share its religious tenets, and is a church organization under two narrow provisions of the tax code. A great many religious organizations — including Catholic colleges and universities, as well as hospitals and charitable institutions that serve the public — will be ineligible. Individuals and religiously affiliated health insurers will not qualify for the exemption."

The bishops implore the faithful to register their objections to the rule during the official public comment period, which ends Friday. They direct people to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website for background information and to send emails to Health and Human Services and members of Congress protesting the rule.

The bishops’ flier also directs people to a copy of their own statement objecting to the regulation, in which they lament this “nationwide government coercion of religious people and groups to sell, broker, or purchase 'services' to which they have a moral or religious objection represents an unprecedented attack on religious liberty.”

The proposed religious exemption stipulates that a church organization 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," according to the bishops’ statement.
"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 bishops say in their comments to Health and Human Services. "In effect, the exemption is directly at odds with the parable of the Good Samaritan, in which Jesus teaches concern and assistance for those in need, regardless of faith differences."

In effect, the rule would force Catholic hospitals, charitable institutions, and universities and colleges to choose between dropping all health coverage for workers or paying for health services that violate church teachings, according to the bishops.

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