IRS scandals raise doubts over HHS mandate judgment

Ashley McGuire of The Catholic Association CNA US Catholic News 5 23 12 Ashley McGuire of The Catholic Association.

The targeting of conservative, pro-life and religious non-profits by the Internal Revenue Service is drawing concern over the agency's authority to decide exemptions to the HHS mandate.

"The HHS mandate hinges on what constitutes a religious entity," said Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow at the Catholic Association and editor of AltCatholicah, a Catholic women's web magazine.

McGuire explained to CNA during a May 10 interview that the IRS has "authority in determining what a religious entity is" for purposes of deciding which employers much comply with the controversial mandate.

Issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, the mandate requires employers to offer health insurance covering free contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can cause early abortions.

A wave of protest against the regulation has sparked a multi-step process to issue a revision that takes religious objections into account. As currently proposed, this revision would allow a small percentage of religious organizations to be exempt from the mandate, based on their tax status with the IRS.

Late last month, however, the IRS admitted that certain non-profit organizations' applications for tax exempt status received increased scrutiny due to their names and political themes. Additionally, some targeted groups were required to disclose lists of donors, blog and newsletter content, and prayers used at events.

These groups included politically conservative organizations as well as pro-life groups and religious organizations and charities such as Christian Voices for Life, Family Talk Action and Samaritan's Purse, among others.

Pointing to a recent article in the Weekly Standard, McGuire explained that in the midst of this new controversy, the IRS will become responsible for deciding whether or not organizations are forced to abide by the mandate if it violates their consciences.

She explained that the "way the regulation is written, it is the IRS that determines whether an organization qualifies for full exemption from the HHS mandate."

"So the very enforcers at the IRS, whose own inspector general admits they systematically targeted conservative and religious groups, will now get to decide who is entitled to ladle soup into a bowl for a homeless person without violating his or her conscience," McGuire wrote in the Weekly Standard.

In the midst of the scandal in which "religious values were indeed scrutinized by bureaucrats," the IRS will "gain new authority to determine what constitutes religious activity and which religious employers are entitled to conscience rights," she continued.

"If the case for repealing this unjust intrusion on the free exercise of religion was always strong, in recent weeks it's gotten stronger still," she added.

McGuire told CNA that the only way to ensure that the sort of political targeting that has occurred already by the IRS does not result in an infringement on religious freedoms via the contraception mandate is to either "completely repeal the mandate" or give a religious exemption to "anyone who asks for an exemption."

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