Ben Johnson

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New HHS accommodation only ‘pretends to protect’ a select few, solves nothing: AUL legal assessment

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WASHINGTON, D.C., February 1, 2013, (LifeSiteNews.com) -- The Obama administration's new HHS birth control mandate regulations released today, and spun as a concession to religious freedom, barely change existing policy and may even have made things worse, according to an analysis released by Americans United for Life on Friday. The pro-life legal group notes that, in addition to failing to resolve the conscience concerns of religious employers, under the rules no business or individual opt out exists, although people do not cease to hold deeply compelling religious beliefs once they enter the workforce or marketplace. 

The hefty brief is the latest in a string of commentary rejecting the proposed accommodations which -- like a similar announcement last year -- were announced on a Friday morning and immediately supported by Planned Parenthood and NARAL.

The full AUL legal analysis is below:  

The Obama Administration has not substantively altered its assault on the First Amendment’s Freedom of Conscience.  Today’s notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) reiterates the Administration’s commitment to what is often referred to as the “HHS mandate”– its coercive policy of forcing coverage for life-ending drugs and devices.

In some significant ways, the Obama Administration’s NRPM is even narrower than the protections it had previously entertained as a possibility in its March 2012 Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM).

In the ANPRM, for example, the Obama Administration asked for input on whether for-profit employers with religious objections should be accommodated.  Today, they announced that for-profits with religious or moral objections—such as the Bible publisher Tyndale and family run businesses like Hobby Lobby—will absolutely not be afforded any conscientious protection.

The NRPM acknowledges that under the regulation issued by HHS in February 2012, if a church (that otherwise would have been exempted from the mandate) maintained a soup kitchen, or ran a parochial school, it could have been disqualified from the conscience protection because it served or hired persons regardless of their faith.  The NPRM states that this disqualification “was never [HHS’s] intention.” That, of course, is undermined by the fact that requiring organizations to be insular, and primarily serve and primarily hire persons of their own faith, were explicit requirements chosen by HHS.

While it is small step forward to drop the insularity requirements, the Obama Administration’s exemption still only applies to a very narrow category, and does not extend the guarantees of religious liberty and freedom of conscience to all Americans.

In fact, today’s announcement states that the Obama Administration will not, as it had previously considered, exempt or even “accommodate” an entire single group health plan of a church or religious organization, if each affiliated employer on the single group health plan does not independently meet the narrow requirements of the Obama Administration’s definitions.

The NPRM’s  proposed “accommodation” for only certain religious non-profits is also grossly inadequate.

Besides failing to consider for-profit employers and non-religiously affiliated non-profits whose pro-life consciences are nonetheless violated by the HHS mandate,  the NPRM is clear that “all references to ‘accommodation’ are references to an arrangement in which contraceptive coverage is provided…including objecting religious institutions of higher education.”  Accommodation does not mean an exemption.

The NRPM’s description of the “accommodation” as alleviating the conscience concerns of even the select few it pretends to protect requires a substantial amount of make-believe. Its argument that a “separate” contraceptive plan (that employees/students must be automatically enrolled in—there is no individual opt-out) will somehow not require the payment of either the enrollees or the “accommodated” religious non-profit, rests on the idea that it “is cost neutral because they would be insuring the same set of individuals under both policies...”  Put another way, it is only cost-neutral for the insurance company if both “separate” policies are considered.  In order to make the Obama Administration’s math for “free contraception” work, these insurance plans are not really distinct.

Importantly, the NPRM does nothing to correct the inappropriate inclusion of the abortion-inducing drug Ella in a provision of the Affordable Care Act that was intended to prevent diseases.  Forcing coverage for life-ending drugs and devices under the guise of “preventive care for women” is not achieving the goal of “public health and gender equality” announced in the NPRM.

The Obama Administration may hope that announcing its policies on a Friday afternoon will result in the American public either not noticing, or forgetting over the weekend.  However, 48 hours will not change the fact that the HHS mandate continues to violate protections in state and federal laws and the foundational American principle of Freedom of Conscience.

AUL developed an opt-out bill that has been used by eight of the 18 states that have opted-out of offering insurance plans that cover abortion in the state Exchanges required under Obamacare. AUL has also filed amicus briefs in the following on-going cases, arguing that parts of Obamacare are not Constitutional because of violations of First Amendment Conscience Rights: Belmont Abbey College v. Sebelius, Wheaton College v. Sebelius, Nebraska v. Sebelius, and O’Brien v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  In addition, AUL filed a joint brief with other pro-life allies in United States Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida before the United States Supreme Court.

This analysis is reprinted with permission from Americans United for Life.

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Lisa Bourne

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Pressure mounts as Catholic Relief Services fails to act on VP in gay ‘marriage’

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne
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Rick Estridge, Catholic Relief Services' Vice President of Overseas Finance, is in a same-sex "marriage," public records show. Twitter

BALTIMORE, MD, April 24, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- Nearly a week after news broke that a Catholic Relief Services vice president had contracted a homosexual “marriage” while also publicly promoting homosexuality on social media in conflict with Church teaching, the US Bishops international relief agency has taken no apparent steps to address the matter and is also not talking.

CRS Vice President of Overseas Finance Rick Estridge entered into a homosexual “marriage” in Maryland the same month in 2013 that he was promoted by CRS to vice president, public records show.

Despite repeated efforts at a response, CRS has not acknowledged LifeSiteNews’ inquiries during the week. And the agency told ChurchMilitant.com Thursday that no action had been taken beyond discussion of the situation and CRS would have no further comment.

"Nothing has changed,” CRS Senior Manager for Communications Tom said. “No further statement will be made."

LifeSiteNews first contacted CRS for a response prior to the April 20 release of the report and did not receive a reply, however Estridge’s Facebook and LinkeIn profiles were then removed just prior to the report’s release.

CRS also did not acknowledge LifeSiteNews’ follow-up inquiry later in the week.

“Having an executive who publicly celebrates a moral abomination shows the ineffectiveness of CRS' Catholic identity training,” Lepanto Institute President Michael Hichborn told LifeSiteNews. “How many others who hate Catholic moral teaching work at CRS?”

CRS did admit it was aware Estridge was in a “same-sex civil marriage” to Catholic News Agency (CNA) Monday afternoon, and confirmed he was VP of Overseas Finance and had been with CRS for 16 years.

“At this point we are in deliberations on this matter,” Price told CNA that day.

ChurchMilitant.com also reported that according to its sources, it was a well-known fact at CRS headquarters in Baltimore that Estridge was in a homosexual “marriage.” 

“There is no way CRS didn't know one of its executives entered into a mock-marriage until we broke the story,” Hichborn said. “The implication is clear; CRS top brass had no problem with having an executive so deliberately flouting Catholic moral teaching.”

“The big question is,” Hichborn continued, “what other morally repugnant matters is CRS comfortable with?”

While the wait continues for the Bishops’ relief organization to address the matter, those behind the report and other critics of prior instances of CRS involvement in programs and groups that violate Church principles continue to call for a thorough and independent review of the agency programs and personnel.

“How long should it take to call an employee into your office, tell him that his behavior is incompatible with the mission of the organization, and ask for his resignation?” asked Population Research Institute President Steven Mosher. “About thirty minutes, I would say.”

“The Catholic identity of CRS is at stake,” Hichborn stated. “If CRS does nothing, then there is no way faithful Catholics can trust the integrity of CRS's programs or desire to make its Catholicity preeminent.” 

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Thousands of marriage activists gathered in D.C. June 19, 2014 for the 2nd March for Marriage. Dustin Siggins / LifeSiteNews.com
The Editors

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Watch the March for Marriage online—only at LifeSiteNews

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WASHINGTON, D.C., April 24, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- At noon on Saturday, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and dozens of cosponsors, coalition partners, and speakers will launch the third annual March for Marriage. Thousands of people are expected to take place in this important event to show the support real marriage has among the American people.

As the sole media sponsor of the March, LifeSiteNews is proud to exclusively livestream the March. Click here to see the rally at noon Eastern Time near the U.S. Capitol, and the March to the Supreme Court at 1:00 Eastern Time.

And don't forget to pray that God's Will is done on Tuesday, when the Supreme Court hears arguments about marriage!

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Hillary Clinton: ‘Religious beliefs’ against abortion ‘have to be changed’

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By Ben Johnson

NEW YORK CITY, April 24, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Speaking to an influential gathering in New York City on Thursday, Hillary Clinton declared that “religious beliefs” that condemn "reproductive rights," “have to be changed.”

“Yes, we've cut the maternal mortality rate in half, but far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive health,” Hillary told the Women in the World Summit yesterday.

Liberal politicians use “reproductive health” as a blanket term that includes abortion. However, Hillary's reference echoes National Organization for Women (NOW) president Terry O’Neill's op-ed from last May that called abortion “an essential measure to prevent the heartbreak of infant mortality.”

The Democratic presidential hopeful added that governments should throw the power of state coercion behind the effort to redefine traditional religious dogmas.

“Rights have to exist in practice, not just on paper. Laws have to be backed up with resources, and political will,” she said. “Deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed.”

The line received rousing applause at the feminist conference, hosted in Manhattan's Lincoln Center by Tina Brown.

She also cited religious-based objections to the HHS mandate, funding Planned Parenthood, and the homosexual and transgender agenda as obstacles that the government must defeat.

“America moves ahead when all women are guaranteed the right to make their own health care choices, not when those choices are taken away by an employer like Hobby Lobby,” she said. The Supreme Court ruled last year that closely held corporations had the right to opt out of the provision of ObamaCare requiring them to provide abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization to employees with no co-pay – a mandate that violates the teachings of the Catholic Church and other Christian bodies.

Clinton lamented that “there are those who offer themselves as leaders...who would defund the country's leading provider of family planning,” Planned Parenthood, “and want to let health insurance companies once again charge women just because of our gender.”

“We move forward when gay and transgender women are embraced...not fired from good jobs because of who they love or who they are,” she added.

It is not the first time the former first lady had said that liberal social policies should displace religious views. In a December 2011 speech in Geneva, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said perhaps the “most challenging issue arises when people cite religious or cultural values as a reason to violate or not to protect the human rights of LGBT citizens.” These objections, she said, are “not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation.”

While opinions on homosexuality are “still evolving,” in time “we came to learn that no [religious] practice or tradition trumps the human rights that belong to all of us.”

Her views, if outside the American political mainstream, have been supported by the United Nations. The UN Population Fund stated in its 2012 annual report that religious objections to abortion-inducing drugs had to be overcome. According to the UNFPA report, “‘duty-bearers’ (governments and others)” have a responsibility to assure that all forms of contraception – including sterilization and abortion-inducing ‘emergency contraception’ – are viewed as acceptable – “But if they are not acceptable for cultural, religious or other reasons, they will not be used.”

Two years later, the United Nations' Committee on the Rights of the Child instructed the Vatican last February that the Catholic Church should amend canon law “relating to abortion with a view to identifying circumstances under which access to abortion services may be permitted.”

At Thursday's speech, Hillary called the legal, state-enforced implementation of feminist politics “the great unfinished business of the 21st century,” which must be accomplished “not just for women but for everyone — and not just in far away countries but right here in the United States.”

“These are not just women's fights. These have to be America's fights and the world's fights,” she said. “There's still much to be done in our own country, much more to be done around the world, but I'm confident and optimistic that if we get to work, we will get it done together.”

American critics called Clinton's suggestion that a nation founded upon freedom of religion begin using state force to change religious practices unprecedented.

“Never before have we seen a presidential candidate be this bold about directly confronting the Catholic Church's teachings on abortion,” said Bill Donohue of the Catholic League.

“In one sense, this shows just how extreme the pro-abortion caucus actually is,” Ed Morrissey writes at HotAir.com. “Running for president on the basis of promising to use the power of government to change 'deep seated cultural codes [and] religious beliefs' might be the most honest progressive slogan in history.”

He hoped that, now that she had called for governments to change religious doctrines, “voters will now see the real Hillary Clinton, the one who dismisses their faith just the same as Obama did, and this time publicly rather than in a private fundraiser.”

Donohue asked Hillary “to take the next step and tell us exactly what she plans to do about delivering on her pledge. Not only would practicing Catholics like to know, so would Evangelicals, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, and all those who value life from conception to natural death.”

You may watch Hillary's speech below.

Her comments on religion begin at approximately 9:00. 

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