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The phantom accommodation?

On March 2, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, released a letter suggesting that the negotiations between the White House and the USCCB over the conteception mandate had stalled because of the administration's intransigence -- especially on the issues of self-funded health plans and the definition of "religious employer" in the HHS regulations.

A few days later, an administration source shot back, claiming that the White House had put nearly everything on the table for negotiation "only to be rebuffed" by the USCCB.On March 14, the Administrative Committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement repeating their opposition to the contraception-coverage mandate -- and laced with tendentious claims. Committee members again complained that the "now-finalized rule of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services...would force virtually all private health plans nationwide to provide coverage of sterilization and contraception -- including abortifacient drugs -- subject to an exemption for 'religious employers' that is arbitrarily narrow, and to an unspecified and dubious future 'accommodation' for other religious organizations that are denied the exemption." (For more on how the chairman of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Freedom used to think about one of those morning-after pills, click here.)

Two days later, on March 16, HHS released an "Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking" -- stay caffeinated if you're going to try to read the whole thing; the regulatory patois is brutal. The document addresses most of the bishops' concerns, and requests public comment on some of the thornier regulatory problems. (Read Commonweal's editorial on the bishops' statement and the HHS document here.) From the beginning, the bishops have criticized the method HHS used to determine which religious employers would be exempt from providing contraception coverage to employees. You'll recall that the original ruling fully exempts only religious employers that are nonprofits, that employ and serve primarily co-religionists, and whose primary purpose is the inculcation of religious values. Obviously that doesn't cover certain Catholic ministries, such as hospitals and colleges. The Administrative Committee's letter darkly warns that the HHS definition of religious employer "will spread throughout federal law, weakening its healthy tradition of generous respect for religious freedom and diversity."

Not according to the HHS document:

The Departments emphasize that this religious exemption is intended solely for purposes of the contraceptive coverage requirement pursuant to section 2713 of the PHS Act and the companion provisions of ERISA and the Code. Whether an employer is designated as religious for these purposes is not intended as a judgment about the mission, sincerity, or commitment of the employer, and the use of such designation is limited to defining the class that qualifies for this specific exemption. The designation will not be applied with respect to any other provision of the PHS Act, ERISA, or the Code, nor is it intended to set a precedent for any other purpose.

What about the way the exemption definition will function once it goes into full effect in August 2013? Last month the USCCB put out a press release that claimed some Catholic parishes would not be exempt: "Some churches may have service to the broader community as a major focus, for example, by providing direct service to the poor regardless of faith. Such churches would be denied an exemption precisely because their service to the common good is so great." Of course that was a stretch, but given the complex relationship of Catholic institutions to their host dioceses, how will the administration determine which organizations are exempt? Back to the March 16 HHS document:

In addition, we note that this exemption is available to religious employers in a variety of arrangements. For example, a Catholic elementary school may be a distinct common-law employer from the Catholic diocese with which it is affiliated. If the schools employees receive health coverage through a plan established or maintained by the school, and the school meets the definition of a religious employer in the final regulations, then the religious employer exemption applies. If, instead, the same school provides health coverage for its employees through the same plan under which the diocese provides coverage for its employees, and the diocese is exempt from the requirement to cover contraceptive services, then neither the diocese nor the school is required to offer contraceptive coverage to its employees.

In other words, even though the Obama administration seems unwilling to budge on the rule's definition of "religious employer," the full exemption may cover more organizations than some of the mandate's critics initially thought. Employees of those institutions will not have access to free contraception coverage provided separately by insurers, as the accommodation proposes for religious hospitals, colleges, and charities.

Another major point of contention has been how self-funded health plans will fit into the HHS exemption structure. When an institution funds its own health plans, it doesn't pay premiums to an insurance company. It pays an insurance company a fee to administer the plan. If, say, Cigna is contracted to handle the plan, employees get an insurance card from the company. When employees receive medical services, Cigna forwards the bills to the employer, which in turn reimburses the insurer according to an agreed-upon price structure. When states began requiring insurance companies to cover contraception with their prescription drug benefits, religious institutions could avoid providing such coverage by self-funding their health plans -- because self-funded health plans are subject to federal, not state, regulation. That won't be an option once the HHS mandate kicks in, which is why the accommodation is a good idea.

But even if the bishops were to agree that the accommodation allows Catholic institutions to avoid illicit remote material cooperation with evil, because insurance companies would be responsible for providing separate contraception coverage to employees, when it comes to self-funded plans, almost all the money that pays for medical care comes from the employer. The cooperation would be significantly less remote.

The HHS document proposes several byzantine arrangements all designed to shift the provision of contraception coverage from self-insured religious groups to third parties, from the insurance companies that administer those plans to the government itself. The document does not finalize any of those arrangements, but requests public comment on those ideas and others for a period of ninety days. And in a separate document,HHS issued a final rule that fully exempts self-funded student plans from the contraception mandate.The bishops won't get the Taco Bell exemption. But the administration has shown that it's serious about working through the religious-liberty issues identified by the bishops. This is not necessarily a political win for Obama -- Democrats are raising money on the issue. But it's the right thing to do. Maybe someone at the USCCB will notice.

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A very good posting. I guess we will see how the USCCB will now respond. It does seem that they have a record of mis-characterizing the mandate, refusing to engage in the give-and-take of proposed rule making, and changing the 'goal.' It seems to me that they are less interested in reaching a working accommodation than they are in keeping a political fight alive. A change in tone, at least, on the part of USCCB would be welcomed by this Catholic.

The administration has shown it is not interested in substantively addressing the Bishops' concerns at all, but is merely issuing empty and incoherent rhetoric while keeping the substance of their unacceptable position intact. On the religious entity definition, the administration utterly refused to budge. On the arrangement for other religious groups, the administration not only forces them to provide a plan that directly causes the coverage, but it still can't identify how to do such a thing, or how to do it legally, or how to do it without increasing costs. Tubal ligation costs thousands of dollars yet the administration blindly asserts that since "contraception" is cost neutral there's no cost effect of the mandate for free tubals. That is absurd. And for self-insured groups, if third party administrators have to do far more than what they presently do (many aren't even licensed to offer insurance) they will either increase their costs or get out of the third party administration business--proposing that they "fund" the cost through rebates will take those rebates out of the pocket of the employer too.The administration refused to put on the table the four-part (you falsely call it a three-part) test that minisculely defines who is religious and who isn't. It is absurd to say it isn't precedential--all law is precedential. As MSWinters points out, if it isn't precedent there is no point at all in using it now. What is the point, exactly? A point, please, for using this definition? Can anyone identify a legitimate point? No. And it is utterly non-binding and meaningless for the administration to claim in a non-binding notice of possible future rulemaking that other agencies won't use this definition. They can, not to mention states. Federal law means something. It also makes no sense for you to claim the four-part test is really not that bad: many churches do not primarily serve their own members--ever heard of the Great Commission? The administration's quote you use above proves that Catholic schools don't qualify if they buy their own insurance. Many Catholic schools are lay run. The administration nowhere says, "we are not going to impose the 'primarily serve' or 'church/religious order' requirements." You are spinning the document as if it said that, and suggesting that the administration is going to consider Catholic agencies as exempt. It isn't. And the byzantine ideas for Obama's shell game applied to non-exempt religious groups are morally meaningless, because they still force employers to provide plans which are the sine qua non of obtaining coverag the employer objects to providing. You think that is morally OK, but other Catholics and Christians agree, and you have no right to force them to accept your jesuitical moral theology by the coercive arm of your favorite political party. This leads to the heart of the problem: you think that Catholic employers like Frank O'Brien, whose business is dedicated to ecomonic justice to his employees by adherence to Church teaching, have no religious freedom. http://aclj.org/obamacare/aclj-files-suit-challenging-hhs-mandate-for-vi... are denying Vatican II's teaching on the laity as the People of God and not just Churches/clerical run institutions, and the teaching that the laity have consciences and religious freedom. Your leave Catholic employers to face devastating financial coercion by Obama or violating their Catholic beliefs, all for the sake of contraception and embryo-killing. You have excommunicated Frank O'Brien from who "counts" as Church.

Anitra Williams, there is a standard process that is followed by federal agencies when they issue or revise regulations. The bishops have no special standing as United States citizens in claiming an interest in a particular set of regulations. The agency cannot just "change" a rule after a private citizen complains that they are burdened by it. There are 200 million plus other U.S. citizens who have to be given the opportunity to make their comments, many of whom have interests that are quite divergent as I am sure you must realize. This isn't Franco's Spain and your fellow citizens are not a mere inconvenience to the would-be Catholic governing elite.

In addition, Anitra, some of your points are grossly inaccurate and reveal that you have not understood the accomodation e.g. tubal ligations.

Oh my. "The People of God". Is this a forum provided largely for a discussion/debate on the issue of Christ as a messenger of God and how we mere mortals might most usefully stumble our way in that direction or it a place were we convince other we, and only we, are the "People of God"? For all its remarkable contributions to issues of faith and human compassion that was the very tragic detour made by so many of the elders of Judaism. A faith of which Christianity is both a loving child and frustrated step-child.Holy moly. The fellow rode a donkey into town. What can one possible believe He will think of a person who arrives on quite a fine high horse?That we desire to share a meal, pleasant conversation, a fun movie, the miracle of birth, the satisfaction of a task well done with fellow human beings makes perfect sense. That we would desire to "save" another person's soul seems largely foolish. Why would be believe we can or should do such a thing? What was it exactly that was insufficent in Christ's efforts that we must now rectify?

O'Brien, the new Taco Bell like employer, just found out his health plan he has had for years already covers BC. He won't cancel it because of contractual obligations until next year. He claims he will not be able to cancel then because of HHS. He will give up his 'religious liberty'for a year and then start whining. "Francis J. Manion, senior counsel with the ACLJ, who is representing O'Brien, said that with the mandate being in the news the last several months, O'Brien took a closer look at his company's health plan through United Health Care and discovered, to his dismay, that the plan covered contraceptives.'

My parish published this blog post from the Archdiocesan website in last Sunday's bulletin. I don't know whether the pastor (or someone on the staff) came up with that idea himself, or whether someone at the archdiocese might have recommended it. But it was not a good idea, particularly since it appeared in print beneath the "Archdiocese of New York" banner but without crediting the author (Ed Mechmann). I assumed it was a statement from Dolan - though obviously not written by him - until I searched for it online.Anyway, one of the reasons publishing this blog post, without comment or context, was a bad decision is the section headed "There Is No Compromise" (emphasis Mechmann's):

In response to the renewed public furor that followed the issuance of the final regulations, the President announced on February 10 that there would be a compromise to address the religious liberty objections of churches and other faith-based institutions.But heres the key thing to remember: no details about this compromise have been announced. The Administration has made clear that they are not open to any further concessions on religious liberty. The original regulations have become law there is absolutely no substance whatsoever to the compromise, beyond promises of something at some undefined time in the future after the next election. Its all smoke and mirrors and political spin.The net result is that there is virtually no way out of this mandate it is very, very broad, and the religious liberty exemption is very, very narrow. Very few employers and no individuals or insurance companies will be able to claim conscientious objector status. There is no compromise in this regulation nothing.

It is fair and even necessary to note that the promised accommodation has yet to be worked out or finalized. But to turn that into "there is absolutely no substance whatsoever to the 'compromise'.... It's all smoke and mirrors" is essentially calling the president a liar. If the bishops want to convince anyone that they are seriously pursuing some way forward with the administration, then associating this sort of rhetoric with them (and with Dolan in particular) is not in anyone's interest.

The discussion on this topic will probably continue along the division lines of Church rights vs. comscience rights with USCCB taking a hard stance.It's my view that no reset is poossible post the administrative meetings: as NCR reported, Bishop Lori has been "promoted" to Abp of Baltimore for his role.Meanwhile Cardinal Dolan sides with Mr. Donahuie vs. SNAP and he and his fellow visitors to Ireland are either welcomed or seen as creatures odf the institution after the report on their"visit" was released.My own view is that USCCB's leadership is at best desultory and primarily intyerested in promoting the view that it thinks Rome wants - not perhaps in getting things done to promote the good of the Church at this time.

There is absolutely no substance whatsoever to the "compromise." That is a statement of legal fact. One rule and one rule only exists, need ever exist, or has even been formally proposed: the anti-religious one. Even the recent announcement is nothing but an invitation to discuss. There is no substance. If the president is saying the opposite, and you think that means he is essentially a liar, then you are entitled to your opinion.

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance, so those who think the Obama administration is violating the law (RFRA) and the First Amendment with the contraceptive mandate certainly have a right to make as much noise as they can. But I don't quite understand what strikes me as paranoia. If the contraceptive mandate is clearly illegal and blatantly unconstitutional, then it's going to be struck down by the courts. Does anyone really think the Roberts Court will not hesitate to strike down an illegal and unconstitutional assault on religious liberty? Do the opponents of the contraceptive mandate suspect that deep down they may not have a good legal case against it and will not prevail in court?

Anitra, you wont convince most posters here because their belief contraception is moral is the guiding force for their arguments.

You're too funny, Bruce.

'Do the opponents of the contraceptive mandate suspect that deep down they may not have a good legal case against it and will not prevail in court?" of course they think they have no case , that's the reason for the outrage..table banging.. Anitra, Your second post calls the president a liar.[more table banging?] Anitra..Should O'Brien cancel his policy now that he found out it covers BC? Can he continue 'evil' participation for a year on the basis of his attorney's advise? Do his employees 'chip-in' for themselves, or spouses and adult children?Is O'Brien sole owner of the company? ? Don't bother to answer because I don't care.

"The administration has shown it is not interested in substantively addressing the Bishops concerns at all"I think the administration is interested in finding a way to address concerns, *provided it is not required to backtrack on the mandate* - specifically its definition of religious employers. What the administration has illustrated so far is that the definition is non-negotiable. We can charitably assume that the administration has acted in good faith to address concerns that were raised by its Catholic allies after the original mandate was proposed and promulgated - but the limit of its good faith is the definition. That, apparently, is untouchable. My view is that there is no amount of temporizing or accommodating that the administration can offer, while leaving that definition untouched, that will satisfy the bishops. Even if the administration found a way to satisfy the bishops on issues such as self-insured Catholic institutions - and so far, the administration has failed on that score - the definition would continue to be an unacceptable sticking point.If the administration truly wants to dial down this controversy - and there is not much reason to suppose that it does - let it revise the definition of religious institutions to bring it in line with the way the federal government has traditionally defined religious institutions.Unless and until it does, this issue will remain unresolved until the election results are learned in November, and until the court cases are adjudicated and appeals are exhausted. Btw, Commonweal editors - there are a lot of good things in the 3/20 editorial.

@MWO:Are you suggesting that Cardinal Dolan is being disingenuous in disseminating these opinions purposely without specific attribution, a kind of rolling disinformation campaign?Or, are you suggesting that Dolan is merely politically inept in his goal of trying to get the federal government to enforce the church hierarchy's ideology that has been long ago rejected by their own people?And, are you suggesting that US bishops, with Dolan as their leader, are attempting to undermine President Obama's reelection campaign by planting stories in the press that he is duplicitous?

Mollie makes a good point, something that has always been baffling about the bishops' strategy in this fight (as well as health care reform). They seem to cotninue to make categorical statements and when those are proved false they just fall back to another position or continue to assert the indefensible. It undermines their credibility. As David Nickol says, if the courts don't strike this down (and even the bishops privately concede the Taco Bell exemption has not shot) it will make them look bad, or force them into hunker down mode. One irony: the Obama mandate has actually improved the situation for dioceses and Catholic institutions in many states that had their own mandates. Now they don't have a way around what they detest, even though they didn't seem to dislike it that much before.

Jim P, you wrote: "If the administration truly wants to dial down this controversy and there is not much reason to suppose that it does let it revise the definition of religious institutions to bring it in line with the way the federal government has traditionally defined religious institutions."The contraception definition is one of about 60 ways that the federal (and state) government have traditionally defined religious institutions. Governments have been "defining" religious institutions for tax and regulatory purposes for decades. This one is nothing new. Which of the other definitions would you propose? And if you proposed any definition, wouldn't that be just another case of the government defining a religious institution? This seems to be a Catch-22.

1) I don't see why a religion that has aligned itself with a political party in opposition to an elected administration is entitled to tax exemptions. 2) I don't see why a President should consult with the leaders of any religious denomination about anything. 3) The planet cannot support the population explosion that the RCC (Republican Catholic Church) is fighting for.4) The editors, in the editorial linked in the opening post, say, Whether this will lead to further division within the Catholic community depends on all parties eschewing loose talk of a war on religion or a war on women." Agree that there's been plenty of "loose talk" from the men who rushed to the barricades: bishops, editors and writers on once-liberal periodicals, t.v. guys, et al. They've expressed lots of stuff that may have shocked some women and men who had been lulled into thinking the old notions had changed. And, in the editorial, the editors made this claim: There was a remarkable degree of unity among Catholics in opposing the administrations initial decision . . . Repeating it doesn't make it so. Few women pledged the fraternity. The "unity", imho, was an illusion, or maybe just another example of just how invisible women are.

Jim J.: no. I'm saying that, if the bishops want to be seen as actively working toward a solution (rather than simply grandstanding), their rhetoric needs to reflect that. And it would have been better to read something more constructive in my Sunday bulletin.Gerelyn, speaking of invisibility: you realize I'm a woman, right?

Once-liberal publications? The Wanderer? The NC Register? The Brooklyn Tablet? Any diocesan mouthrag anywhere? Hmmm?Oh ... I get it.

Even if the administration found a way to satisfy the bishops on issues such as self-insured Catholic institutions and so far, the administration has failed on that score the definition would continue to be an unacceptable sticking point.Jim,If you read the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking there are suggestions for ways to deal with the self-insured, and HHS solicits additional ideas.

I think the administration is interested in finding a way to address concerns, *provided it is not required to backtrack on the mandate* specifically its definition of religious employers. Jim,I think this is not entirely accurate. The administration did change its position on the definition of religious employers. There are now two classesthe totally exempt, and the "accommodated." The new regulations that are in the process of being worked out will recognize Catholic universities, religious charities, Catholic hospitals, and so on, as religious organizations. What the administration is standing firm on is not what constitutes a religious organization, but rather what constitutes a religious organization that is totally exempt from the mandate. There are clear distinctions to be made between, say, a religious order or an archdiocese and a Catholic hospital or a Catholic university. There are also clear distinctions between a Catholic hospital or university and a Catholic-owned Taco Bell.

"And if you proposed any definition, wouldnt that be just another case of the government defining a religious institution? This seems to be a Catch-22."It's a fair point. I presume the government has been doing this for many years, e.g. for determining tax categories. My understanding (and perhaps this is incorrect - correction welcome) is that this is the first time the *federal* government has defined religious institutions so narrowly that Catholic Charities, Notre Dame and Resurrection Hospital are excluded.

Should there not also be some consideration of the positive value of (more) universal health care? The Church has consistently, if somewhat quietly, advocated for universal health care. While the AHA is certainly far from perfect in many ways, it does extend health care benefits to some 30 million (or more) individuals, many of whom are lower income and children. Is this one provision, the coverage of contraception, with the exemptions and accommodations, so heinous as to warrant this level of vitriol on the part of the USCCB -- so much so as to lend support to those who would throw out the entire bill, bringing us back to the good old days when if you have the money you can get the care? Or is this just further evidence of partisan politics in the guise of principle?

I think this is not entirely accurate. The administration did change its position on the definition of religious employers. There are now two classesthe totally exempt, and the accommodated.David, I believe the 'accommodated' class of employers is something that only exists in the eyes of HHS. In other words, the accommodation does not remove that group from morally culpable situation in which they believe they originally found themselves. So the new class produces no real distinction from the original problem. And as long as the administration fails to hear and resolve the underlying complaint about coercion, there is no solution. And I think the bishops are right to fight this process the entire way, even if they knew for absolute certainty that they would win in court, which of course they dont and cant know. That is the way a democratic political process is supposed to work: loudly creating controversy every step of the way.

My understanding (and perhaps this is incorrect correction welcome) is that this is the first time the *federal* government has defined religious institutions so narrowly that Catholic Charities, Notre Dame and Resurrection Hospital are excluded.Jim,I think you are incorrect. For purposes of equal-opportunity employment, I think the federal government makes basically the same distinction between, say, a diocese or religious order, on the one hand, and a Catholic hospital and a Catholic university on the other.

jbruns: It would be against their religious zealotry for them to compromise their religious opposition to contraception.President Obama and the Obama administration have got their hands full trying to deal with the religious zealotry of the Catholic bishops.

Mr. Farrell: Zeal can be a virtue or a vice. In this case, the Bishop's rhetoric suggests the latter.

The Hosanna-Tabor case, much praised by conservatives certainly, also defined religious bodies, and did so in a fairly narrow sense.

David, I believe the accommodated class of employers is something that only exists in the eyes of HHS. Bruce,No, as I said to Jim, the federal government, for the purposes of EEOC compliance, makes a distinction similar to the one for the contraceptive mandate. The reason to have the "accommodated" religious organizations (universities, hospitals) have less of an exemption than the "pure" religious organizations (religious orders, dioceses, religious elementary schools) is because the "accommodated" organizations hire non-Catholic workers, and in fact can't discriminate on the basis of religion. In other words, the accommodation does not remove that group from morally culpable situation in which they believe they originally found themselvesIf religious organizations that provide insurance coverage that includes contraception are "morally culpable," then the numerous Catholic organizations that have complied with state mandates, or offer contraceptive coverage without having been mandated to, must abandon their immoral behavior and cease providing insurance coverage for contraception, right? That would include Bishop Robert C. Morlino and the Diocese of Madison. They had initially switched to being self-insured, because Wisconsin law exempted the self-insured organizations, but Bishop Morlino found self-insurance too expensive, so he went back to purchasing insurance and complied with the state mandate to include contraception coverage. Do you consider him to be doing something immoral?

jbruns: I don't consider religious zealotry to be a virtue.

I think zeal has a fairly positive (or at least neutral) connotation, implying great enthusiasm, but zealot and zealotry imply fanaticism.

Thomas: Yes, the connotation is different. I intentionally used just the word 'zeal,' with a meaning closer to 'fervor.' But I accept your point.

Gloria Steinem said: "If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament." Ditto for contraception. Yet the bishop's stated in the letter read at all masses that their opposition was not anti-woman. They become more and more laughable as the days go by.

jbruns: Thank you for accepting my point, and thank you for challenging me to clarify my own thought.Next, I want to turn to your concern that the extremist rhetoric of the Catholic bishops could possibly endanger the entire health-care act. The Republicans clearly would prefer to win the presidency and enough seats in the Senate and the House so that they could overturn the entire health-care act. Clearly the extremist rhetoric of the bishops seems to play into that Republican scenario.However, John Allen of NCR reports that 45% of American Catholic voters vote Republican and 45% of American Catholic voters vote Democratic.The 45% of American Catholic voters who vote Republican probably do support the Republican scenario of overturning the entire health-care. So they would probably find the extremist rhetoric of the Catholic bishops consistent with their already established view of wanting to overthrow the entire health-care act.But the 45% of American Catholic voters who vote Democratic would probably not vote Republican just because of the extremist rhetoric of the Catholic bishops.Now, what about the 10% of American Catholic voters whose voting patterns are not established along party lines? Your guess is as good as mine as to how they might be swayed by the extremist rhetoric of the Catholic bishops.

the federal government, for the purposes of EEOC compliance, makes a distinctionDavid, that is my point. The distinction matters to the Federal government but for the employers in the class there has been no change in the cooperation with evil. So if you are an employer in this new 'accommodated' class, it makes no difference.As for the other Catholic organizations that are providing health plans with 'contraceptive services' the individual facts and circumstances matter. I dont know anything about the Madison Bishop but on the surface it does not look good. But finding one example, or many examples, does not a moral argument make. HHS is scrambling around trying to find any involved third party to foot the bill for 'free contraceptive services' to sustain the 'sex doesnt produce babies' fallacy. I look around and see what the sexual revolution has produced in our society and will try to fight it anywhere possible.Perhaps the hierarchy is finally doing the same. Take a look at this data for NYC...http://www.nyc41percent.com/

Worth a look and germane to the above. Tom Gallagher, NCR, lists funding provided by the Obama Administration to Catholic bishops and affiliated organizations in recent years and other interactions. Based on what he shows, he concludes ""Why arent Dolan, Lori, Picarello, Doerflinger and Walsh . speaking honestly to the Catholic population about the authentic truth of the Obama administrations enormous commitment to the church and her broad ministries?" "Why arent Dolan, Lori, Picarello, Doerflinger and Walsh taking an optimistic, hopeful orientation towards Obama and his administration on the issue of the HHS mandate, given the unprecedented commitment he is making to the Catholic church?" http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/following-money-white-house

What would the hierarchs have to gain by not communicating the "authentic truth of the Obama administration's enormous commitment to the church and her broad ministries?"Jack Barry, are you suggesting that bishops have alterior political motivations other than their stated concerns for "religious liberty/"

Bruce. I read your link. Appalling statistics indeed...and a very good argument, in my view, for free contraception and education.

Interesting how the Obama people chose sides publicly in the internecine Catholics-vs.-Catholics wars. And how the New York Times not-too-subtly managed to back them up with a couple of little articles saying how the Catholic bishops were way off to the right of their flock. Doesn't anyone here feel the slightest bit used?

It might be interesting if it were true, but since it's not it's simply boring.

I suspect that some of the people who originally claimed to be against the contraception mandate weren't being fully honest, as shown by the fact that they not only accept but preach in favor of an "accommodation" that has no economic difference from the original rule.

"I look around and see what the sexual revolution has produced in our society and will try to fight it anywhere possible."Bruce, You might be interested to know that many fundamentalists are divorced, use contraceptives and are into pornography. There is a dichotomy in the religious right that is startling. http://liberapedia.wikia.com/wiki/Bible_Belt

and a very good argument, in my view, for free contraception and education. Andmany fundamentalists are divorced, use contraceptives and are into pornography. There is a dichotomy in the religious right that is startlingI guess the argument is that we all act so badly, we should not strive to change for the better. Contraception is already free and ubiquitous and has encouraged cohabitation and abortion. One definition of insanity is doing the same things over again hoping for a different outcome.

Gallagher at NCR makes an egregious category error. Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities certainly are *not* classified as religious organizations as defined by HHS for birth-control-mandate purposes. From the Obama Administration's point of view, Catholic Relief Services is no more religious than Greenpeace or Planned Parenthood. If the Obama Administration's definition of a religious organization was to encompass Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services, this controversy would not exist.

"The reason to have the accommodated religious organizations (universities, hospitals) have less of an exemption than the pure religious organizations (religious orders, dioceses, religious elementary schools) is because the accommodated organizations hire non-Catholic workers, and in fact cant discriminate on the basis of religion."David, I'll take your word on the EEOC definition. I'd just mention that if Catholic hospitals and universities "in fact can't discriminate on the basis of religion", presumably they "can't" because of ... the EEOC definition. If the EEOC definition of religious institutions encompassed them, and permitted to operate as they really are, or are supposed to be - as institutions with a religious mission - they would still be free to hire non-Catholics, and I suspect that they would view a certain amount of diversity as a virtue. As a matter of morality, it's far from clear to me that a Catholic hospital or university *shouldn't* show a bias in favor of prospective emplloyees who explicitly share the institution's religious mission - i.e. are Catholic. Personally, I'd like a lot of Catholic instructors teaching at a Catholic university to which I'd send my children.

Jim P. -- Your comment doesn't seem to pertain. Gallagher explicitly titles his section on funds "Highlights of federal funding to the U.S. bishops and certain Catholic nonprofit organizations" and refers then to "Catholic nonprofits", having excluded hospitals and universities earlier (except for one university grant). He later refers to "Catholic-affiliated organizations". CC and CRS are generally considered in the latter category, I believe. The HHS mandate definitions are irrelevant to the point of his article.

To discriminate is to treat employes differently on the basis of race, creed, sex, etc. If a Ctholic hospital doesn't treat its employees differently from each other, but treat Catholics and everyone else alike, how is that discrimination if none of the employees get contraceptive coverage? To say tht employees at other institutions do get such coverage is really irrelevant to claims against the Catholic institutions. Those people are not employess of the Ctholic institution, so the Catholic institution is not discriminating against them,However, because *the government* must see that everyone has contraceptive coverage, if it denied it to some that would be discrimination. The simple solution is for the government to pay all the contraceptive costs. Of course, that probably sounds too much like a single payer to a lot of people. But it would be a constitutional solution. Let people just deduct the cost of the contraceptives from their income tax if they keep the receipts.

The underlying premise behind the USCCB's position is that contraception is evil. If you accept that, there can be no accommodation. Even if insurance coverage of contraception were removed, that principle remains, and the USCCB's position would be that employees who purchased their own contraception would be using Catholic resources for evil purposes. This gives them some Theological cover under remoteness, but that doesn't make it any less sinful for the individual. It is hard to accept that it is okay to be involved in the manufacture and sale of contraceptives, even to profit from it, but is is a grave evil to actually use them. (So when is O'Brian's Pub going to remove the condom machine from the men's room?)

To discriminate is to treat employes differently on the basis of race, creed, sex, etc. If a Ctholic hospital doesnt treat its employees differently from each other, but treat Catholics and everyone else alike, how is that discrimination if none of the employees get contraceptive coverage?Ann,Well, of course in the South in the 1950s and 1960s, was it not discrimination to simply shut the public swimming pools rather than integrate them? There are ways of treating everyone equally that are an affront and injustice.In any case, I did not bring up the EEOC distinctions between religious organizations that can hire and fire on religious grounds and those that cannot to imply that it was discrimination for employers not to provide contraceptives. I brought it up because people are claiming the federal government, in the case of the contraceptive mandate, has invented a classification of various religious groups that did not exist before. I am saying this is not true. The distinction between religious organizations that hire people of their own religion and deal with people of their own religion (a diocese, parish, or parish school) versus those who do not (hospitals and universities) is very similar to a long-established distinction made in civil rights cases.

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