HHS

The nine Supreme Court justices, public domain

The nine Supreme Court justices, public domain

Five things to know about one of the most anticipated Supreme Court decisions of the year:

1. Corporations can’t pray, but they do have religious rights.

Hobby Lobby isn’t a person. It’s a chain of crafts stores owned by a religious family. And though the evangelical Green family objects to parts of the Affordable Care Act’s emergency contraception mandate, it’s not the Greens but the company that writes the check for employees’ health insurance. The first question the justices had to answer was this: Does Hobby Lobby have religious rights? To many Americans, this sounds a little nutty. Does a craft store believe in God?

A majority of the justices held that a closely held company such as Hobby Lobby does have religious rights. The court didn’t apply those rights, however, to publicly held corporations, where owners’ religious beliefs would be hard to discern.

But well before the justices had delivered their verdict on this question, many legal scholars said they wouldn’t be surprised were they to affirm the company’s religious rights. American corporations do have some of the rights and responsibilities we usually associate with people. And in the 2010Citizens United campaign finance case, the justices overturned bans on corporate political spending as a violation of freedom of speech — corporations’ free speech.

Birth control pack, Melissa King / Shutterstock.com

Birth control pack, Melissa King / Shutterstock.com

The Obama administration on Friday sought to placate religious groups by broadening religious exemptions and giving faith-based organizations more room to maneuver around its controversial contraception mandate, but the new rules offer no loopholes for privately owned businesses.

The contraception mandate, part of Obama’s health care overhaul, had set off an explosive church-state dispute and soured relations between the White House and some Christian groups, including the Catholic bishops’ conference.

The new rules, issued by the Health and Human Services Department, seek to address religious freedom concerns in two ways: First, they broaden the definition of “religious employers” so that all houses of worship and dioceses and affiliated organizations will be clearly exempt. Second, for other faith-based employers, the rules would transfer the costs and administrative tasks of the birth control insurance policies to insurance companies.

Daniel Burke 12-03-2012
Photo: Birth control pill, © Calek / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Birth control pill, © Calek / Shutterstock.com

Most Americans say that employers — even religious ones — should provide birth control coverage to their employees, according to a survey released on Monday. 

The poll by LifeWay Research also showed that almost two-thirds of Americans (63 percent) believe businesses should be required to provide the coverage for free, even if contraception conflicts with the owner’s religious ethics.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 health care reform law, President Barack Obama issued regulations that require most employers, including some religious ones like Catholic colleges and hospitals, to provide birth control coverage. The administration has said it may expand the policy to accommodate additional religious organizations.

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.

Jack Palmer 08-01-2012
Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill.

Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill.

Today Wheaton College, a leading evangelical Christian school and the alma mater of the Rev. Billy Graham in Illinois, sought an injunction for "emergency relief," as it seeks to remain exempt from the Health and Human Services (HHS) insurance mandate which comes into effect today.

Filed on Wheaton's behalf by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the preliminary injunction would, the college hopes, temporarily keep at bay the fines which would be levied on them under the mandate, should they fail to comply with the provisions.

The provisions, which are part of the Affordable Care Act, would require “most employer health insurance plans to provide birthday control coverage,” as was reported on God’s Politics last month. Many Catholic institutions and groups have already filed lawsuits again the mandate, and Wheaton is one of a growing number of evangelical institutions joining in the legal challenge.

TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

Demonstrators protest the contraception mandate on the National Mall in March. TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

The Obama administration’s policy requiring most employers to provide free birth control coverage in their health insurance policies takes effect on Aug. 1 — a deadline that has sparked apocalyptic warnings from conservative activists and some faith groups.

“August 1st is a day that will live in infamy for the First Amendment and the fundamental freedoms and rights we as a people have enjoyed since the founding of our nation,” said Brent Bozell, head of ForAmerica. “With the stroke of a pen, the Obama Administration has shredded the First Amendment and the Constitution right before our eyes.”

“August 1st will be remembered as the day our most cherished liberty was thrown in a government dumpster and hauled away,” echoed Matt Smith, head of Catholic Advocate. And that’s just a sampling of the outrage.

Are the claims legitimate? As with most federal regulations, it’s complicated, and the supercharged politics of the issue, in the midst of a presidential campaign, don’t help.

Moreover, religious freedom is by its nature a topic that prompts heated debates — without always providing a clear answer.

QR Blog Editor 06-18-2012

CNN examines some of the possible outcomes of the Supreme Court's imminent decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act:

"The election-year rulings will not only guide how every American receives medical care but will also establish precedent-setting boundaries for how government regulation can affect a range of social areas. Your health and your finances could be on the line.

The outcome's possibilities are myriad: a narrow or sweeping decision? A road map to congressional authority in coming decades? Which bloc of justices, which legal argument will win the day?"
 
Read more here
RNS photo courtesy Pete Souza / The White House

President Barack Obama talks with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. RNS photo courtesy Pete Souza / The White House

In an unexpected blow to the Obama administration and a major boon for America's Catholic bishops, the influential Catholic Health Association on June 15 rejected White House proposals aimed at easing faith-based objections to the contraception mandate.

“The more we learn, the more it appears that the … approaches for both insured and self-insured plans would be unduly cumbersome and would be unlikely to adequately meet the religious liberty concerns of all of our members and other Church ministries,” Sister Carol Keehan and leaders of the CHA said in a five-page response to the Department of Health and Human Services.

US Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a May 2012 meeting a

US Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a May 2012 meeting at the UN. FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

A coalition of nearly 150 religious leaders, led by conservative Protestants, have petitioned the Obama administration to broaden the exemption that allows churches and some religious organizations to avoid a controversial new mandate that all health care insurers provide free contraception coverage.

In a letter sent Monday (June 11) to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the 149 religious leaders note that they hold differing views on “the moral acceptability” of birth control and on the viability of various administration proposals to allow faith-based groups to bypass the mandate for contraception and sterilization coverage.

But they said they share a strong objection to the language that defines which "religious" groups are eligible for an exemption, saying the definition creates a “two-class system” of religious groups: churches, which qualify under the wording of the exemption, and “faith-based service organizations,” which may or may not qualify.

Helen Alvare 05-22-2012

Image by brandonht / shutterstock.

Pundits and politicians who opine about the so-called war on women ought to take note of the lawsuits filed Monday against the Department of Health and Human Services contraception mandate by 43 religious groups, including several Catholic dioceses and colleges.

The suits object to the requirement that religious institutions provide their employees with insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.

In the propaganda surrounding the mandate, HHS seems to suggest that women’s only stake in the matter is “free” contraception. This is a shallow – and frankly demeaning – view of women, who, equally with men, have an important stake in the preservation of religious freedom in the United States.

Official Department of Labor Photograph

Kathleen Sebelius, . RNS photo courtesy United States Department of Labor/Flickr. Official Department of Labor Photograph

Last month liberal Catholics were upset over House Republican budget chief Paul Ryan using a Georgetown University platform to defend his hard-line fiscal plan as a natural outgrowth of his Catholic faith. Dozens of Georgetown faculty and administrators wrote a letter welcoming Ryan but blasting his understanding of Catholic teaching and asking him to explain his views during his talk at the university’s Public Policy Institute.

Now it is the conservatives’ turn: The flagship Jesuit university has announced that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic who has angered conservatives and bishops for overseeing the Obama administration’s contraception insurance mandate and other controversial policies, will address the policy institute's graduating class at commencement on May 18.

TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

Protestors gather to oppose requiring insurance coverage for contraception. TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

The nation’s Catholic bishops are calling on the faithful to pray and mobilize in a “great national campaign” to confront what they see as a series of threats to religious freedom, and they are setting aside the two weeks before July 4 for their “Fortnight for Freedom” initiative.

The exhortation is contained in a 12-page statement released Wednesday (April 12) by the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, and its chief concern is the Obama administration’s proposal to provide contraception coverage to all employees with health insurance, including those who work for religious groups.

The statement represents the hierarchy’s latest effort to overturn that policy, and it includes an explicit threat of widespread civil disobedience by the nation’s 67 million Catholics.

TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

Demonstrators protest requirement that employers provide insurance coverage for contraception.TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

The nation’s Catholic bishops say the Obama administration’s proposed revisions to a mandate that requires insurers to provide birth control coverage are still unacceptable and even “radically flawed" -- signaling a long drawn-out election-year fight between the White House and the Catholic hierarchy.

The bishops also say that they will continue to try to overturn the contraception regulations in Congress and the courts even as the bishops carry on negotiations with the White House.

The critical judgments on the government proposals, which were published by the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services on March 16, are contained in an internal, two-page March 29 memo from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The memo’s contents were first reported Tuesday (April 3) by Catholic News Service.

Duane Shank 03-27-2012

Quote of the day.
"We still give food to people even when they say they don't want to pray." Paul Brock, founder of the non-profit Community Provisions of Jackson County, IN, which had its emergency food assistance from the federal government suspended due to volunteers asking recipients if they would like to pray.
(USA Today)

1. Pope Benedict arrives in Cuba in footsteps of John Paul.
Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Cuba on Monday in the footsteps of his more famous predecessor, gently pressing the island’s longtime communist leaders to push through “legitimate” reforms their people desire, while also criticizing the excesses of capitalism.
(AP/Chicago Sun-Times)

2. Santorum fails to capture Catholic vote.
Mr. Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, has trailed Mr. Romney among Catholics in 10 of the 12 states in which Edison Research conducted exit polls that asked about religion.
(New York Times)

3. Supreme Court begins review of health-care law.
The Supreme Court opened its historic review of the national health-care overhaul Monday with an indication that it will be able to decide the constitutional question of whether Congress exceeded its powers despite arguments that the challenge was brought too soon.
(Washington Post)

4. Five Supreme Court takeaways.
The first of three days of arguments dealt only with a highly technical piece of the health care law, but it provided some clues about how the rest of the week’s arguments might go. Among the Day One takeaways:
(Politico)


5. Poll finds support in U.S. for Afghan war drops sharply.
The survey found that more than two-thirds of those polled — 69 percent — thought that the United States should not be at war in Afghanistan. Just four months ago, 53 percent said that Americans should no longer be fighting in the conflict, more than a decade old.
(New York Times)

6. Leaders warn over nuclear threat.
World leaders call for closer co-operation to tackle the threat of nuclear terrorism at a summit on nuclear security in Seoul.
(BBC)

7. Annan says Syria accepts peace plan, fighting enters Lebanon.
Syria has accepted a ceasefire and peace plan drawn up by U.N. and Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan, his spokesman said on Tuesday, even as Syrian troops thrust into Lebanon to battle rebels who had taken refuge there.
(Reuters)

8. U.S., Australia to broaden military ties.
The United States and Australia are planning a major expansion of military ties, including possible drone flights from a coral atoll in the Indian Ocean and increased U.S. naval access to Australian ports, as the Pentagon looks to shift its forces closer to Southeast Asia,
(Washington Post)

9. Arab spring leads to wave of Middle East state executions.
Middle Eastern countries have stepped up their use of capital punishment, executing hundreds of people as rulers across the region seek to deter the wave of uprisings sweeping the Arab countries.
(Guardian)

10. Oil clashes along Sudan borders.
Clashes break out in oil-rich border areas between Sudan and South Sudan in what is described as the biggest confrontation since the South's independence last July.
(BBC)

RNS photo courtesy Pete Souza / The White House.

President Barack Obama talks with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. RNS photo courtesy Pete Souza / The White House.

The Obama administration is offering to expand the number of faith-based groups that can be exempt from the controversial contraception mandate, and proposing that third-party companies administer coverage for self-insured faith-based groups at no cost.

At its heart, the newest offering from the White House would allow religious groups -- dioceses, denominations and others -- to decide which affiliated institutions are "religious" and therefore exempt from the new requirement that employers offer free contraception coverage as part of employee insurance plans.

The proposals are an effort by the administration to blunt criticisms of the controversial regulation, especially by the nation's Catholic bishops, who have been at loggerheads with the White House since President Obama announced the contraception mandate in January.

the Web Editors 03-13-2012
Birth control photo, Melissa King, Shutterstock.com

Birth control photo, Melissa King, Shutterstock.com

Since Rush Limbaugh’s tirade, calling Sandra Fluke a “slut” for testifying for free access to birth control, the actual subject of debate seems like a distant memory. What were we talking about again? Paying for sex? Wait …

As religion journalist Nicole Neroulias points out in a recent piece, “I Was a Virgin on Birth Control,” and as others have attempted to testify, doctors prescribe birth control to remedy a number of real, physical ailments. These include ovarian cysts (think kidney stone-style pain, guys), endometriosis(which can lead to infertility) and a variety of other conditions that we know all-male panels probably don’t want to hear details about.

RNS photo courtesy House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight.

Bishop William Lori testifies on contraception mandate. RNS photo courtesy House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight.

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — The Catholic bishop leading the push against the White House's contraception mandate says the bishops hope to restart contentious talks with the Obama administration, but cautioned that church leaders "have gotten mixed signals from the administration" and the situation "is very fluid."

Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., who chairs the religious liberty committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told Religion News Service that Catholics have to stay united if the hierarchy is to have any chance of prevailing in negotiations with the White House.

Ever since President Obama bowed to growing pressure and shifted the mandate to provide contraception mandate to insurance companies and away from religious employers, the White House has been hosting talks with various religious groups about a plan to modify the regulation.

Catholic institutions like hospitals, universities and social service agencies are most directly affected by the regulation because they are the biggest faith-based employers. They have also been much more amenable to the Obama accommodation than have the bishops.

Many bishops are upset with Catholic groups that have dealt independently with the administration, and some have also accused the administration of trying to divide the church.

Image by Brooke Becker/Shutterstock.com

Image by Brooke Becker/Shutterstock.com

The Obama administration is rejecting charges by the nation's top Catholic bishop that talks to modify a controversial birth control mandate are "going nowhere" because of alleged White House intransigence and efforts to diminish the central role of the bishops.

"The White House has put nearly every issue requested by the bishops on the table for discussion and has sought the views of bishops on resolving difficult policy problems, only to be rebuffed," an administration official close to the negotiations said Tuesday (March 6).

The official was not authorized to speak publicly on the negotiations and requested anonymity to speak candidly about the sensitive talks.

Sandi Villarreal 03-05-2012
(Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

Rush Limbaugh at a Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers game in November. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

I was raised half-Catholic and half-Southern Baptist in Texas, so Rush Limbaugh made an auditory appearance now and again in my car growing up. One of my early memories was discovering a new term: “feminazis.”

These dangerous women were unkempt, outspoken, and downright ungodly, if you believed Limbaugh. Then I reached about age 14. I was actually going to be a woman and maaaaybe this was kind of insulting. I realized that Limbaugh was often self-admittedly absurd—a shock-jock. I stopped taking him seriously.

So when he spit out his latest attack on women and outrage followed, I wondered whether I should even be surprised. What came out of his mouth was disgusting, but this is a man who doesn’t believe in the existence of sexual harassment.

Daniel Burke 03-02-2012

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., at a news conference Thursday in the Capitol. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate on Thursday defeated a Republican-led bid to insert a broad religious exemption into a federal mandate that requires most employers and health insurance companies to provide free contraception coverage.

The largely party-line vote was 51-48 in favor of tabling an amendment that Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., had offered to a federal transportation bill.

Blunt and other Republicans had argued that the measure would protect the religious liberty of institutions such as Catholic charities and hospitals that object to contraception on moral grounds.

"It's not just the Catholic Church," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said during the floor debate on Thursday. "It's a moral and religious issue that should not be interfered with by the federal government."

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