WASHINGTON – In a Friday, March 9 letter to the White House, the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities expressed its continued concern about the contraceptive mandate contained in the August 3, 2011, amendment to the Department of Health and Human Services 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).
This mandate requires all employers, including religious institutions, to cover contraceptive services in their health care plans, including covering the contraceptives Plan-B and ella, which are widely considered to be abortion causing drugs. Though the final regulations published on February 15, 2012, exempt churches from this mandate, the regulations do not offer exemption for other types of religious organizations, including CCCU institutions.
In response to wide concern about the narrow exemption, President Obama indicated in a February 10 public statement that his administration had developed an “accommodation” for religious groups. He described an “accommodation” that would not exempt these groups from the mandate in the way that churches are exempt but would allow these other religious groups to avoid including in their health care plan services they find objectionable. Instead, each group’s insurance company would be required to offer coverage for those objectionable services to the institution’s employees directly at no cost to the employee or employer. In its letter last week, the CCCU expressed praise for the President’s desire to protect religious liberty, but concern about the narrowness of the religious exemption in the finalized regulations, including the fact that the regulations create two tiers of religious institutions.
“We believe the role of separating religious groups into two tiers, groups that are religious enough to be exempt and groups that are deemed less religious and must therefore only be ‘accommodated’ is not an appropriate role for the federal government because it puts the federal government in the position of determining the sincerity of the religious commitment of various groups. We believe this is a precedent that could have long-term harmful effects on faith-based organizations, that are neither churches nor run by churches, yet are just as deeply committed to the principles of their faith as are centers of worship,” wrote CCCU President Paul Corts in the CCCU’s letter.
Instead, the letter suggested that broader language, such as the exemption contained in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, be used. “We believe that a better exemption would equally recognize all religious organizations that hold themselves out to the public as religious and that engage in religious, charitable, or educational activities for sincere religious purposes – such as the one found in the 1964 Civil Rights Act that recognizes any church, school, college, university, or other educational institution as eligible for the religious exemption if the institution is operated, owned, supported, and controlled by a religious corporation, or if the curriculum is intended to disperse the ideas of a particular religion (42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(e) (2)),” Corts wrote.
The CCCU’s letter indicated, however, that if the White House would not expand the scope of the exemption, other steps could be taken to improve the accommodation and better bring it in line with President Obama’s stated goal of protecting religious liberty. Stating that the accommodation framework must apply the President’s workaround to both self-insured institutions and to student plans, the letter also requested that the regulations explicitly state that establishing two tiers of religious organizations, exempted versus accommodated, did not indicate any difference in the sincerity of the religious commitment of groups in both tiers.
Finally, the letter also asked for a very robust firewall between the religious institution and their insurance providers’ provision of the objectionable services to the religious institutions’ employees. Corts stated that, “Merely requiring insurance companies to offer this coverage does not provide this level of assurance to our institutions. Rather, only an arms-length transaction, such as from a third-party entity established to provide coverage of all of the FDA required contraceptives that insurance companies can buy into, could provide our institutions the assurance that their premiums were not indirectly paying for the services they so oppose.”
Previously, the CCCU signed an inter-faith letter dated August 26, 2011, to Joshua DuBois, head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships; submitted comments on September 30, 2011, to the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Labor, and the Internal Revenue Service; and wrote a December 23, 2011, letter to President Obama opposing the limited religious protection contained in the mandate.
About the CCCU: The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities is a higher education association of 185 intentionally Christ-centered institutions around the world. The 116 member campuses in North America are all fully-accredited, comprehensive colleges and universities with curricula rooted in the arts and sciences. In addition, 69 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 our institutions transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth. Visit www.cccu.org.