Washington, D.C. – On September 30, the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU) submitted comments to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on the August 3, 2011, amendment to the regulations entitled Group Health Plans and Health Insurance Issuers Relating to Coverage of Preventative Services Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (File Code CMS-9992-IFC2). These new regulations, 45 CFR Part 147 RIN 0938-AQ07, mandate that all health plans cover preventative care for women that includes contraceptives and emergency contraceptives, some of which are abortifacients. In its comments, the CCCU requested that HHS eliminate the mandate or dramatically expand the religious exemption, since requiring CCCU institutions to cover these preventative services would force them to act against their Christian convictions.
“Violating our schools’ consciences in this manner is not only unwarranted public policy but also an infringement of legal protections of religious freedom,” wrote Paul R. Corts, president of the CCCU.
The religious exemption in the new regulations is extremely narrow. For an institution to qualify for the religious employer exemption it must meet the criteria that “[t]he inculcation of religious values is the purpose of the organization.” The other requirements for an organization to meet the religious employer exemption include primarily hiring and serving those who share its religious tenets and being organized for tax purposes as a “church, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of churches, as well as to the exclusively religious activities of any religious order.” Although CCCU institutions are clearly Christian in their values and commitments, they are also degree-granting institutions of higher learning. It is uncertain whether any CCCU institutions would meet all of these requirements.
The CCCU’s comments stated that the CCCU views this mandate as unconstitutional and as a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), which forbids the federal government from substantially burdening religious exercise unless such burdens are the least restrictive means of achieving a compelling interest. In addition to sending comments, the CCCU has joined an inter-faith letter opposing these regulations.
The CCCU is also concerned that even if the religious employer exemption is expanded that the mandate will still be applied to student plans. Requiring student plans to cover emergency contraceptives may put a school in the position of being “required by the federal government to offer services to students that the school teaches are wrongful services,” continued Corts. “The federal government should not compel a school to violate its convictions in this way.”
To counteract these regulations, the “Respect for Rights of Conscience Act of 2011” has been introduced in both the House (H.R. 1179) and the Senate (S. 1467). The CCCU encouraged presidents of CCCU institutions to contact their congressional representatives on this matter.
The deadline for comments to HHS on the regulations was Friday, September 30, 2011. The CCCU also submitted its comments to the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration, who co-promulgated the regulations with the Department of Health and Human Services.
About the CCCU: The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities is a higher education association of 185 intentionally Christ-centered institutions around the world. The 113 member campuses in North America are all fully-accredited, comprehensive colleges and universities with curricula rooted in the arts and sciences. In addition, 72 affiliate campuses from 25 countries are part of the CCCU. The Council’s mission is to advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education and to help its institutions transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth. Visit www.cccu.org.