The Knights of Columbus filed formal comments with the U.S. government on Monday, calling for an end to the Health and Human Services mandate and "a new course" that would not require Americans to cover medical services to which they have religious and moral objections.

The Knights, a Catholic charitable fraternal organization with 1.8 million U.S. members, invited the Obama administration to "make every effort to protect the conscience rights and sincerely held religious beliefs and practice of the American people," Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said in an April 6 letter.

"The faith that lies at the heart of our charitable activity and our defense of human rights is  also the same faith that compels us to oppose participation in a government  mandate that would force us to fund, directly or indirectly, health plans that include objectionable services such as sterilization, contraception, or abortion-inducing drugs," he said.
The federal mandate requires almost all private insurance plans to offer the objectionable drugs and procedures without a co-pay. Violators could face heavy fines. Over 150 employers and non-profit organizations, including Catholic health systems, universities, charities, and dioceses, have filed more than 40 federal lawsuits challenging the rules.

The Obama administration has altered the original mandate to require insurance plans, not employers themselves, to provide the objectionable coverage. The new proposals also modify religious exemption standards. However, the change has failed to address many objections.

Anderson said that the new proposals change "some minor details" but do not address the "critical moral and constitutional offense" of coercing individuals and organizations with objections to pay for the coverage directly or indirectly and to initiate coverage..

"The government places itself in the untenable position of deciding that some consciences are fit for protection, while others are not," Anderson said.

He said the newest proposed rules do not expand the religious exemption and are implemented "in a manner that requires the employer to initiate and pay for such coverage." Non-exempt entities "receive no protection and will lose the right to provide health care coverage that respects their deeply held religious and moral convictions."

Anderson cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church's teaching that people may not be forced to act against their convictions. He also cited James Madison's defense of the free exercise of religion.

He also cited Thomas Jefferson's 1804 letter to Ursuline sisters in the Louisiana Territory , in which Jefferson said that the U.S. Constitution is a "sure guarantee ... that your institution will be permitted to govern itself according to its own voluntary rules without the interference from the civil authority."

Anderson suggested the Obama administration use principles adapted from the Church Amendment to the Public Service Act. That legislation, first passed in1973. That provision bars individuals and entities from being required to violate their religious beliefs or moral convictions as part of a government program.

Should the Obama administration refuses to rescind the mandate, Anderson said, the Knights of Columbus urge an expansion of the religious exemption to protect individuals and organizations from being forced to violate their beliefs.

The Knights of Columbus said thousands of its members and their families have filed comments by the close of the comment period April 8.