contraception mandate

One of the most anticipated cases of this Supreme Court season revolves around nuns and birth control.

Zubik v. Burwell, which comes before the justices Wednesday, addresses one of the most contentious parts of the Affordable Care Act: the requirement that employers offer certain types of birth control to their employees — the so-called contraceptive mandate.

Richard Wolf 07-07-2014
The United States Supreme Court. Image courtesy Orhan Cam/shutterstock.com.

The United States Supreme Court. Image courtesy Orhan Cam/shutterstock.com.

The Supreme Court offered a further sign that it favors letting employers with religious objections avoid the Obama administration’s so-called contraception mandate.

Over the vehement objection of its three female justices, the court late Thursday blocked the administration from forcing evangelical Wheaton College to sanction insurance coverage for emergency birth control, even though it would not have had to offer the coverage itself.

In doing so, the court made clear that it’s not done with the religious liberty issue following the court’s June 30 ruling that closely-held, for-profit corporations with objections to certain contraception methods do not have to offer this type of coverage to their employees.

The Little Sisters of the Poor organization was founded in the 1840s by Jeanne Jugan. Public domain image.

When the Supreme Court on Monday issued a split decision narrowly backing the right of for-profit corporations to deny contraception coverage to their employees for religious reasons, many assumed that faith-based nonprofits would have it easy when their own cases eventually reach the high court.

“The death knell is sounding for the HHS mandate,” said Lori Windham, an attorney at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of nuns, as well as other religious groups that object to the Health and Human Services Department policy requiring birth control coverage.

Windham noted that in two rulings by lower courts on Monday, several of Becket’s faith-based clients received last-minute relief to shield them from complying with the mandate, which takes effect today.

Supporters and opponents of ACA’s contraception mandate rallied outside the Supreme Court, March 25. RNS photos by Adelle Banks.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to finally issue its ruling this week in the highly anticipated case of the craft companies vs. Obamacare.

Technically, it’s Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a showdown over the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage mandate. The core legal question is whether a private company can have religious rights.

But to the general public, this is seen as a showdown between employers — the evangelical Green family behind Hobby Lobby and the Mennonite Hahn familythat owns the Conestoga cabinet company — and the employees’ personal reproductive choices under their insurance.

While conservatives have cast the battle as one for religious freedom, the general public may see it as a showdown over personal health choices.

Photo of the 2006 Southern Baptist Convention. Via Matt and Cyndi Maxson/Flickr.

Southern Baptists prayed Wednesday that the Supreme Court would rule in favor of the Green family, the evangelical owners of the Hobby Lobby craft chain that challenged the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

“God, we ask for a favorable, favorable ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States for the cause of religious liberty,” prayed the Rev. Ronnie Floyd, incoming president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Historians said the prayer from the podium during the SBC’s annual meeting about a pending court decision was noteworthy, though Southern Baptists have preached and issued statements for years on current events.

“I think it’s unusual for it to happen at a convention event,” said Bill Sumners, director of the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives.

A strip of birth control pills. Courtesy Annotee / Shutterstock

More than four in 10 Americans support the Obama administration’s controversial contraception mandate, which requires nonprofits and businesses to provide birth control even if they have religious objections.

The poll from Public Religion Research Institute comes as the Supreme Court prepares to issue its decision in a challenge to the contraception mandate filed by the evangelical owners of the Hobby Lobby arts and crafts chain and a Mennonite-owned wood cabinetry business.

Churches and houses of worship are exempt from the mandate, but nearly 100 nonprofits, colleges and universities, and businesses run by people with religious objections to various forms of contraception have filed lawsuits over the mandate.

The poll found majority support for requiring publicly held corporations (61 percent) and privately owned corporations such as Hobby Lobby (57 percent) to provide contraception coverage at no cost to their employees. In addition, majorities of Americans said religiously affiliated hospitals (56 percent) and religiously affiliated colleges (52 percent) should be covered by the mandate.

Joey Longley 03-25-2014
Photo by Joey Longley

Photo by Joey Longley

Today, the Supreme Court heard two cases that have major implications for the intersection of religious liberty and health care in America. While Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius were argued before the Court, hundreds of activists voiced their opinions outside the Court’s chambers.

The Court will decide whom the so-called “contraception mandate” law in the Affordable Care Act applies to. Both of the challengers to this section of the 2010 health law say that providing certain forms of birth control violates their sincerely held religious views. Though there are already exemptions in law for churches and some nonprofits, this case will decide whether for-profit corporations are offered protection under the religious liberty clause of the First Amendment to deny contraception coverage to their employees.

The National Council of Jewish Women Sacramento Section. Photo courtesy National Council of Jewish Women. Via RNS.

On one Friday earlier this month, more than 11,000 Muslims in mosques across the country heard a sermon about the Affordable Care Act.

Hindu and National Baptist groups, meanwhile, are posting online announcements about the White House’s “Faith and Community ACA Days of Action” this weekend.

Jewish women’s groups have visited college campuses to get students who think they’re “invincible” to sign up for health insurance.

As the national March 31 deadline for health insurance enrollment looms and with President Obama’s encouragement, organizations across a range of faiths are working to sign up uninsured Americans for coverage under Obamacare.

Joshua DuBois’ book, “The President’s Devotional.” Cover via RNS. Courtesy Harper Collins

President Obama may not attend church most Sundays, but a new book reveals the Bible verses and prayers that he reads every morning.

The President’s Devotional, released Tuesday by Pentecostal minister turned political aide Joshua DuBois, is a compilation of 365 of the more than 1,500 meditations DuBois has sent the president since he started working for him in the U.S. Senate.

DuBois, who left his White House post in February, spent his weekends reading and praying over what he would send to Obama’s Blackberry the next week. He drew from the words of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, the songs of Nina Simone and Bob Dylan, and the activism of Fannie Lou Hamer and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Richard Wolf 10-04-2013
hoto courtesy U.S. Supreme Court

hoto courtesy U.S. Supreme Court

After two blockbuster terms in which it saved President Obama’s health care law and advanced the cause of same-sex marriage, the Supreme Court appears poised to tack to the right in its upcoming term on a range of social issues, from abortion and contraception to race and prayer.

The justices, whose term begins Monday, could rule against racial minorities in two cases and abortion rights in one or two others. They also could uphold prayers at government meetings, ease restrictions on wealthy political donors, strike down federal environmental regulations, and take a first bite out of Obamacare.

Hobby Lobby store in Ohio. Photo via RNS/courtesy DangApricot via Wikimedia Commons

Federal officials have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the government mandate that private companies offer employees birth control coverage despite the business owner’s moral objections, with the company at the center of the suit owned by billionaire evangelical Christians.

Hobby Lobby’s lawsuit has been one of the most high profile of 60-some cases involving the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate. The arts and crafts chain was founded by David Green, whom Forbes called “the biblical billionaire backing the evangelical movement.”

In June, the Obama administration issued final rules for the mandate that requires most employers to provide contraception at no cost. While there are exemptions for religious groups and affiliated institutions, there are no carve-outs for private businesses with religious owners.

President Barack Obama signs the health insurance reform bill, March 23, 2010. P

President Barack Obama signs the health insurance reform bill, March 23, 2010. Photo via RNS.

An effort to tweak President Obama’s health care reform bill to fill a gap for church health insurance plans could fail because of Republicans’ insistence on repealing the law.

Without a fix, United Methodist Church leaders say some of their churches could drop current coverage for employees once “Obamacare” takes full effect next year, according to Colette Nies, spokeswoman for the UMC’s General Board of Pension and Health Benefits.

Under Obama’s 2010 Affordable Care Act, more than 50 percent of UMC clergy would qualify for tax credits available to lower- and middle-class families to purchase insurance. But because of the way the law was written, those tax credits cannot be used toward insurance plans churches can offer through government-run exchanges.

Nancy K. Kaufman 07-18-2013
Photo courtesy Andrii Chetvertak/ Shutterstock.com.

Door with the "do not enter" sign. Photo courtesy Andrii Chetvertak/ Shutterstock.com.

In Vermont, a country inn declined to provide a wedding reception for a same-sex marriage. In Hawaii, the owner of a bed and breakfast refused a double room to a lesbian couple. Both said providing service would violate their religious faith.

More recently, a federal appeals court judge ruled that the evangelical owners of the Hobby Lobby arts-and-crafts chain may have the right, based on their religious beliefs, to refuse to include contraceptive coverage as part of employees’ health insurance plans. For some time now, pharmacists have asserted — and in many states won — the right to refuse to provide contraception based on religious grounds.

Refusal to serve — and using religion to discriminate — isn’t new. In the mid-1960s, Lester Maddox claimed biblical justification for his refusal to serve blacks at his Atlanta restaurant, which he famously defended with ax handles in his campaign to become Georgia’s governor. Throughout the 19th century, women were refused entry to taverns, professions, and, really, to anything a proprietor decided to exclude them from. The second-class status of women was often, if not always, justified by biblical text.

The organization representing Catholic hospitals across the country says it no longer objects to the Obama administration’s mandate that all employees receive free birth control coverage.

The decision by the Catholic Health Association puts the hospitals at odds with the Catholic hierarchy, which last week rejected the White House’s final regulations on an issue that many church conservatives view as evidence of the administration’s hostility to Catholicism and religious freedom.

Sister Carol Keehan, head of the CHA, disagreed. “If you look at the final regulations it is very clear that we do not have to contract for, or pay for, or arrange for” contraception coverage, Keehan said in an interview on Tuesday.

Birth control pills with payment, Brooke Becker / Shutterstock.com

Birth control pills with payment, Brooke Becker / Shutterstock.com

WASHINGTON — Just days after the Obama administration issued final rules to religious groups for its contraception mandate, a broad coalition spearheaded by Catholic and Southern Baptist leaders is pushing back, saying the rules threaten religious liberty for people of all faiths.

In an open letter titled “Standing Together for Religious Freedom,” the group says the final rules from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services violate their freedom of conscience.

“We simply ask the government not to set itself up as lord of our consciences,’’ said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He was joined by Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore at a news conference at the National Press Club.

“HHS is forcing Citizen A, against his or her moral convictions, to purchase a product for Citizen B,” reads the open letter signed by dozens of leaders from evangelical, Orthodox, Mormon and Hare Krishna groups. “The HHS policy is coercive and puts the administration in the position of defining — or casting aside — religious doctrine. This should trouble every American.”

Photo courtesy RNS/White House.

President Obama speaks to Congress. Photo courtesy RNS/White House.

The Obama administration on Friday issued final rules for religious groups for its controversial contraception mandate, maintaining its position on who qualifies for religious exemption and allowing no carve-outs for private business owners.

More than 60 lawsuits have been filed over the mandate, a part of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act that requires most employers to provide contraception at no cost to employees.

Just as when the draft rules were first unveiled in February, conservatives denounced them as an unconstitutional violation of religious freedom that forces religious organizations and the religious owners of private businesses to offer services they find morally abhorrent.

Photo courtesy Brian McConkey Photography

Notre Dame theologian Candida Moss, who wrote a book on Christianity and persecution. Photo courtesy Brian McConkey Photography

Growing up Catholic in England, Candida Moss felt secure in life, yet was told in church that Christians have been persecuted since the dawn of Christianity. Now, as an adult and a theologian, she wants to set the record straight.

Too many modern Christians invoke, to lamentable effect, an ancient history of persecution that didn’t exist, Moss argues in her newly published book, The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented A Story of Martyrdom.

Although anti-Christian prejudice was fairly widespread in the church’s first 300 years, she writes, “the prosecution of Christians was rare, and the persecution of Christians was limited to no more than a handful of years.”

We asked Moss, professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame, to talk about the travails of early Christians, and how they are misappropriated in the public sphere today. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

04-02-2013
Birth control pills, Christy Thompson / Shutterstock.com

Birth control pills, Christy Thompson / Shutterstock.com

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Thirteen state attorneys general are urging the federal government to broaden religious exemptions for private businesses under the White House’s contraception mandate, claiming the policy violates religious freedoms.

Put simply, the group believes any employer who says he or she objects to contraception should not have to provide contraceptive coverage.

RNS photo courtesy Barna Group, OmniPoll.

A poll released Wednesday by the Barna Group. RNS photo courtesy Barna Group, OmniPoll.

WASHINGTON — Half of Americans worry that religious freedom in the U.S. is at risk, and many say activist groups — particularly gays and lesbians — are trying to remove “traditional Christian values” from the public square.

The findings of a poll published Wednesday reveal a “double standard” among a significant portion of evangelicals on the question of religious liberty, said David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, a California think tank that studies American religion and culture.

While these Christians are particularly concerned that religious freedoms are being eroded in this country, “they also want Judeo-Christians to dominate the culture,” said Kinnamon.

“They cannot have it both ways,” he said. “This does not mean putting Judeo-Christian values aside, but it will require a renegotiation of those values in the public square as America increasingly becomes a multi-faith nation.”

Rachel Marie Stone 08-02-2012

http://youtu.be/LhAhg-PdJ1Q

I have to admire Melinda Gates' chutzpah.

In her recent TED talk and on her blog, Impatient Optimist, Gates insists that "contraception is not controversial" — when, in the last year, it has been explosively controversial, with many Christians (not just Catholic Christians) seeing the "contraceptive mandate" as a real threat to religious freedom.

Yesterday, the new Affordable Care Act laws took effect, meaning that most employers must now provide free birth control coverage in their health insurance policies. Whether it constitutes a threat to religious liberty and whether  remains to be seen — faith-based groups with religious objections to the law have a "safe harbor" until Aug. 1, 2013. Whether HHS will create an extension of this harbor is as yet unknown.

Regular readers of my blog know where I stand on health insurance. As to the contraceptive mandate specifically, I'd prefer not to wade in those particular waters — David Gibson had a good piece if you're interested in the question of whether the mandate kills religious freedom. However, I do want to consider two small points about contraception that lean me toward the (self-identified Catholic!) Melinda Gates point of view:

1. Contraception doesn't take life;
2. Women want contraception.

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