WASHINGTON, D.C., July 13, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – The Obama administration released new, finalized rules on Friday on the controversial HHS mandate – rules that critics say expose religious orders like the Little Sisters of the Poor to massive fines for following their conscience.
They also say the rule ignores the victory for religious freedom won by the Supreme Court with last year's Hobby Lobby decision.
The HHS mandate requires all employers to furnish their employees with contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs at no co-pay as part of the Affordable Care Act, conventionally known as ObamaCare. The provision led to a national backlash, saying it tramples upon the conscience rights of religious business owners, effectively forcing them to choose between their livelihood and their faith.
The Obama administration's latest “accommodation” states that closely held corporations – in which the stock is held by five or fewer families – may opt out of the provision by signing the self-certification form (form 700) and sending it to its insurance company. This letter triggers the insurance company to provide women with birth control for “free.” Religious employers objected that this still violated their faith, as it required their material participation in sin by granting a de facto authorization.
They also protest having the services provided by their own insurance companies.
Under the new regulation, closely held corporations with religious objections to contraception or abortion-inducing drugs must pass a resolution stating their objection, then write a letter either to their insurers or to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The HHS will then contact their insurers to insist upon the “free” contraceptives.
If found guilty, the Obama administration will impose fines of $100 per employee per day.
Opponents say the “accommodation” is an accounting gimmick that does not respect the First Amendment's free exercise clause.
“The government keeps digging the hole deeper,” said Adèle Auxier Keim, Legal Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “Just last week the Supreme Court ordered HHS not to enforce the exact rules they finalized today. But the government still won’t give up on its quest to force nuns and other religious employers to distribute contraceptives.”
“It's small comfort to know that the government mandates a violation of a religious entity's moral beliefs, and then offers to carry out the violation,” agreed Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. “Even more incredible, HHS is now applying this scheme to family-owned businesses such as Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, which already won relief from the government mandate by the Supreme Court. The Obama administration is disregarding the Court's ruling declaring this mandate a violation of the family owned business's religious freedoms.”
Yet the administration's supporters cheered the move, specifically because it undermined the High Court's decision.
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“While these new rules don’t do anything to push back against the dangerous precedent set by the Court — that corporations engaged in secular activity such as purchasing health insurance can claim the same religious protections normally reserved for private individuals — they mitigate the negative effects initially brought on by the court’s ruling,” wrote Jon Green at the liberal Americablog.
Perkins says the rule harms nuns, conscience, and the liberty of the American people at large.
“Crushing federal mandates of this kind don't belong in a free country,” he said.