Coalition for Conscience

When Assemblies of God, Baptist, Catholic, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Mormon, Orthodox, Presbyterian, and Jewish leaders come together and take a stand on a policy issue, we ought to pay attention. The gathering is significant, as it goes beyond the signatories and represents a like-mindedness among the various faiths.

This coalition centers on religious freedom for all.

The diverse group of religious leaders released an open letter to all Americans asserting shared opposition to the federal mandate -- issued under the Affordable Care Act -- that requires employers of all stripes to cover "preventive services" for women, including abortion-inducing methods like Plan B (the morning-after pill) and Ella (the week-after pill.)

Late last month, the Departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury and Labor released the "final" version of these rules and regulations governing the "preventative services" mandate. Regrettably, it was just more of the same, with a slightly later deadline.

Prior to issuing this latest version of the rules, the federal agencies allowed for a public comment period. Many comments decried the applicability of this mandate to non-profit and family-owned employers who have religious objections to facilitating abortions. While the rules contemplate a very narrow exemption for "houses of worship," any other employer with a religious objection is forced to comply, though the coverage would go against conscience and mission.

The departments, in finalizing the rules, noted the apprehension of these religious objectors, but specifically declined to include them in the exemption, figuring that the need for free and accessible abortifacients outweighed all.

Couched as a compromise, the departments offer what they call an "accommodation" for some of these religious objectors. Reserving the option for non-profit organizations, for-profit employers are not eligible. But as non-profits can attest, they are not missing much. The so-called "accommodation" fails to address -- much less accommodate -- the underlying concerns of these entities.

The "accommodation" is that insurers, instead of the non-profit employers, pay directly for the objectionable services. The way it works is the non-profit employer secures an insurer to supply compulsory group health plan for its employees, and this insurer, in turn, pays for and notifies employees of the availability of insurance coverage for contraceptive services (including abortifacients) at the same time it presents the group health plan. The mechanism effectively highlights the availability of the objectionable services. The only appreciable difference is that the employer doesn't pay for the coverage up front, but later on when premiums are re-evaluated.

The departments rationalize that insurers will never seek reimbursement because the coverage will somehow be "cost-neutral." But even assuming the math adds up, the departments gloss over the real problem. The offense is not just that these employers have to pay for it, but they are compelled to facilitate it. With or without the "accommodation," non-profits are the "but for," they are causing the transaction to take place, brokering the deal, effectively putting free abortion-inducing drugs in the in the hands of their employees.

This shell game -- moving funding from one place to another -- is nothing but a poor attempt to mask what the departments are doing with the federal mandate: violating the consciences of religious objectors.

The government steps on many toes when it violates conscience. The fifty-eight leaders of faith who signed the letter articulate a mutual interest. "Many of the signatories on this letter do not hold doctrinal objections to the use of contraception," the letter states. "Yet we stand united in protest to this mandate, recognizing the encroachment on the conscience of our fellow citizens."

In this unexpected way, the Obama administration has fulfilled its promise of bringing us together -- like hardly anything else could. All of us who value the freedom to exercise religion in accordance with our individual conscience -- no matter what form that might take -- now have a unified purpose in getting rid of the federal mandate. Thanks to the Obama administration, the federal mandate, and the resulting unconstitutional imposition on religiously-minded employers, we have formed a coalition for conscience.

Nate Kellum, Chief Counsel at the Center for Religious Expression, 

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