The religious liberty exemption in the HHS contraception coverage mandate remains extremely narrow. As David Addington notes (“Obama Administration Refuses Again to Protect Religious Liberty,” the Foundry, February 16, 2012), the Obama administration talked a good game on accommodating the freedom of conscience of religious schools and charities, but refused to budge when the final rules were published this past Friday:
[T]he summary of the final rules that [Sebelius] published in the Federal Register could not have been clearer that she changed absolutely nothing: “SUMMARY: These regulations finalize, without change, interim final regulations authorizing the exemption of group health plans and group health insurance coverage sponsored by certain religious employers from having to cover certain preventive health services under provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”
The rules trampling on religious liberty are now final and binding and will take effect on April 16, 2012.
Religious organizations have been given an extra year to comply with the rule. But even that minor concession turns faith organizations into supplicants needing government permission to maintain their values, as Addington notes:
[Sebelius’s] memorandum said that employers and group health plans will not, for the next year, “be subject to any enforcement action . . . for failing to cover recommended contraceptive services” if they certify to the government that they are non-profit, do not provide the mandated coverage because of their religious beliefs, and will ensure that their employees covered by their group health plan receive a government-drafted notice that their health plan will not cover contraceptive services during the year.
Secretary Sebelius did not change the rules; she simply said she would choose not to enforce the final rules (a choice she can, of course, reverse at any time).