President Barack Obama attracted harsh criticism for a new policy that claims to accommodate the religious freedom of employers who say their conscience rights are being violated by the administration’s recent contraception mandate.
“This is a false 'compromise' designed to protect the President's re-election chances, not to protect the right of conscience,” said Hannah Smith, senior legal counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
Smith was one of many who responded to a Jan. 20 announcement of a new policy regarding a mandate that will require virtually all employers to purchase health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and drugs that cause abortion.
Amid a storm of protest from individuals and organizations who argued that the mandate infringed upon their freedom of conscience, Obama announced a new policy on Feb. 10, which he said “accommodates religious liberty.”
Instead of directly purchasing contraceptive coverage, the new policy will require many religious employers to contract with health insurance companies that offer them free of charge.
However, the Becket Fund argued that “many religious organizations may still object to being forced to pay money to an insurance company which will turn around and provide contraception to its employees for free.”
The Becket Fund has filed three lawsuits on behalf of religious organizations that object to the mandate, including catholic media network EWTN.
Michael Warsaw, president and CEO of EWTN, said that he is “quite skeptical” that the changes will address the underlying concerns of religious freedom.
He explained that the accommodation “may not actually apply” to EWTN and similar organizations because they self-insure their health care plans.
Therefore, Warsaw said, many companies “will still be forced to pay for these services in violation of our religious beliefs.”
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, argued that “Obama’s latest ploy just adds insult to injury.”
“If the insurance plan of a Catholic institution must cover services it deems immoral, then such a healthcare plan is offensive, plain and simple,” he said.
Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, agreed, saying that the new policy “does nothing to change the fundamentally anti-religious, anti-conscience and anti-life contraceptive mandate.”
He said that the “compromise” is based upon “paperwork gimmicks” that will not protect religious employers from being forced to pay for products that they believe to be immoral.
Perkins argued that the contraceptives will not actually be free “because the insurance companies will increase the premium and administrative costs to the employer.”
He called for legislation that will ensure that conscience rights are truly protected for all Americans.