It’s a disturbing development – an assault on the conscience rights of people of all faiths. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has proposed a potentially crippling policy change aimed squarely at imposing a pro-choice agenda on America’s religious institutions in their role as employers.
Under the Interim Final Rule on Preventive Services published by HHS on August 3, 2011, HHS has mandated that all health insurance plans cover prescription contraceptives, sterilization, and related patient education and counseling. Perhaps more troubling, the Interim Rule includes a narrow “religious employer” exemption that will extend to only a very select group of religious employers.
That would mean that churches or other religious organizations that do not fit within the narrow exemption would be required to cover contraceptives in their employee health plans against their firmly held religious beliefs.
The ACLJ has taken action to protect the conscience rights of those who object to this dangerous new rule. We have filed formal comments, posted here, with HHS on behalf of the Dominican Sisters of the Congregation of St. Cecilia of Nashville, Tennessee, also known as The Nashville Dominicans.
The Sisters, who teach in some 36 schools nationwide including Aquinas College in Nashville, currently employ nearly 300 people and would fall under the new rule’s mandate. The comments urge HHS to abandon the coercive policy set forth in the Interim Rule.
In our comments filed with HHS, we describe the potential harm that the rule will inflict on the Congregation and other faith-based organizations if left unchecked:
In their 151-year history, the Nashville Dominicans have, with the help of God, survived a Civil War on their doorstep, deadly epidemics, devastating floods, economic depression and tumultuous social upheaval. Today, however, they face a new, more insidious threat — their own government. Should HHS persist in implementing the Interim Rule and its contraceptive mandate without major modifications, the Congregation will be forced to curtail its mission. What war and disease could not do to the Congregation, the government of the United States will do. It will shut them down.
ACLJ Senior Counsel Francis J. Manion said it best, “The proposed HHS mandate is an outrageous assault on the religious liberty of all Americans. If allowed to stand, it would mean that the Obama Administration will be defining what is and what is not a ‘religious employer.'”
This proposed regulation should be disturbing to people of all faiths. As Manion said, “The Administration’s narrow definition of ‘religious’ would exclude Jesus and his ministry and would have a devastating impact on the outreach efforts of religious organizations of all denominations. HHS must reverse this ill-considered and dangerous policy without delay.”
The ACLJ will continue to fight to ensure that HHS reverses this ill-conceived and harmful policy.