A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


CHA to HHS: Drop definition of 'religious employer.' Seriously.

Today the Catholic Health Association released its comment (.pdf) on the Department of Health and Human Services proposal to accommodate religious employers' objections to the contraception mandate. From the beginning, CHA has objected to the structure of the mandate's exemption, which defines a religious employer as one that "primarily" serves and hires co-religionists, and whose purpose is the inculcation of its values. Still, when the Obama administration announced its intent to shift the responsibility of providing contraception coverage from religious employers to insurance companies, CHA praised the plan. Now, after studying the "advance notice of proposed rulemaking" (ANPRM), CHA says its initial concerns are "not relieved":

We continue to believe that it is imperative for the Administration to abandon the narrow definition of religious employer and instead use an expanded definition to exempt from the contraceptive mandate not only churches, but also Catholic hospitals, health care organizations and other ministries of the Church.

Rather than stick with a narrow definition of religious employer without precedent in federal law, CHA recommends using Section 414 (e) of the U.S. Code to develop a new one. "Under those principles," the CHA argues, "an organization would be covered by the exemption if it 'shares common religious bonds and convictions with a church.'" CHA's letter includes draft language that would bring the definition in line with established law. What's more, as the CHA points out, changing the definition along those lines "could help address the serious constitutional questions created by the Departments current approach, in which the government essentially parses a bona fide religious organization into secular and religious components solely to impose burdens on the secular portion." HHS has never indicated how it planned to adjudicate employers' claims to a religious exemption. It's hard to imagine any method that wouldn't be a bureaucratic nightmare. Ditch the definition of religious employer and we'll never have to find out.Back to the CHA:

If the government continues to pursue the policy that all employees should have access to contraceptive services, then it should find a way to provide and pay for these services directly without requiring any direct or indirect involvement of religious employers, as broadly defined.

According to the ANPRM, the administration's goals include providing contraception coverage without cost sharing to employees of nonexempt employers with religious objections "in the simplest way possible." Have a look at the ANPRM. Anything about it strike you as simple? The argument could be made that there's nothing terribly complex about having insurers independently offer free contraception coverage to enrollees of nonexempt employers, but what about self-insured institutions? Most of the theories floated in the ANPRM are mind-boggling. What could be simpler than having the government offer contraception coverage to women whose employers have religious objections to providing it? And, as CHA notes, there's precedent for federally funded access to contraception in Medicaid family-planning waivers and in Title X. The ANPRM itself suggests providing contraception coverage through a multi-state policy offered on state insurance exchanges, scheduled to go live in 2014, in compliance with the Affordable Care Act.Last month, after Cardinal Donald Wuerl promised that "the problem goes away if that definition [of religious employer] is changed," I suggested that the Obama administration ask itself three questions: Is that definition worth the trouble it created? How does it serve the administration's policy goals? And is it the only way to achieve those goals? The Catholic Health Association believes the answer to the last question is no. Indeed, if the administration follows CHA's lead, then even more women would be covered -- because, under the proposed accommodation, women who work for fully exempt religious employers would not be eligible for free contraception.In four days, the comment period for the ANPRM ends. The administration would be wise to heed CHA's advice -- and to do so quickly. Backtracking, of course, has never been the most popular of political maneuvers. But, in this case, it might be the smartest. If HHS deep-sixes the disputed definition, what happens to the lawsuits? What happens to the Fortnight for Freedom? Does the president really want to answer questions about this during the debates? Allowing this controversy to simmer much longer could end up costing him key votes -- and health-care reform itself.


Commenting Guidelines

Jeff --Just because lawyers are highly paid and have big-time reputations, it doesn't make them logical in all matters. Sometimes they lose, and for good reason.

Helen, it was from the HHS press release of last August announcing regulations to implement the women's preventative services provision of the ACA.

Under the Affordable Care Act, womens preventive health care services such as mammograms, screenings for cervical cancer, and other services are already covered with no cost sharing for new health plans. The Affordable Care Act also made recommended preventive services free for people on Medicare. However, the law recognizes and HHS understands the need to take into account the unique health needs of women throughout their lifespan.On August 1, 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) adopted additional Guidelines for Womens Preventive Services including well-woman visits, support for breastfeeding equipment, contraception, and domestic violence screening that will be covered without cost sharing in new health plans starting in August 2012. The guidelines were recommended by the independent Institute of Medicine (IOM) and based on scientific evidence.

It's typical that Congress passes a law but leaves to government agencies like HHS the job of developing detailed regulations required to implement the law.

Helen --See what John Hayes quotes above -- in that text "services" clearly has the ordinary meaning of "services".

Ann Olivier, an insurance policy "covers" certain "services" identified in he policy. "Coverage" is the answer to the question "What services does this policy cover?" - i.e. What services will the insurance Company pay for and what co-pays or deductibles will it require?

Helen 06/16/2012 - 4:06 pmthey would also be forced to counsel employees on the advisability of using them. And where did that come from all of a sudden? Can it be as untrue as the rumor about the Muslim exemption that Bishop Bruskewitz brought to the table at the USCCB meeting last week."What accurate answer to that is there but a resounding YES? 1. Churches are exempt from the HHS mandate, so they're not forced to do anything, and2. Even employers who aren't exempt, aren't responsible for counseling employees on using contraceptives; they have to PAY for health plans that cover the services of medical personnel who do that sort of thing (!). Therefore, the claim that CHURCHES would be FORCED to counsel their employees on the advisability of contraception is NOT TRUE.More important, why would Lori say such a thing? Has he not read the mandate? Is he confused? Or, is he trying to mislead?

"Therefore, the claim that CHURCHES would be FORCED to counsel their employees on the advisability of contraception is NOT TRUE."In any case, since when would CATHOLIC churches shrink from the opportunity to counsel employees that it's INADVISABLE to use contraceptives?? I mean, given all the incorrect assumptions that went into what the Archbishop said, what's so unacceptable to a Catholic bishops about churches being *forced* to tell their employees what they think about contraception? Isn't this part of their job description anyway?

"I mean, given all the incorrect assumptions that went into what the Archbishop said, whats so unacceptable to a [sic]Catholic bishops about churches being *forced* to tell their employees what they think about contraception? Isnt this part of their job description anyway?"Pardon the convolution; I got sucked in again. This IMHO is an example of what's so wrong with the reaction of our bishops to the HHS mandate -- their arguments so often begin with imprecise or incorrect premises, cause consternation among both opponents and supporters and lead even deeper into a forest of obfuscation.

I noticed that the HHS blurb I quoted above says "These recommendations do not include abortifacient drugs."In the CHA letter they mention that Ella is believed to be abortifacient (they don't mention Plan B). Perhaps they could push for a revision of "all FDA-approved contraceptives" to "all FDA-approved contraceptives that are not abortifacient" That would be consistent with the HHS statement and would allow the CHA and the USCCB to declare victory and go home even if they don't get exactly what they want for the definition of exempt organizations

John Hayes:I am beginning to think that the USCCB will never declare victory until this president in defeated in November.

I find it highly unlikely that for most Catholics the contraceptive mandate will be determinative in their choice(s) in the election. Most Catholics, like most Americans, are motivated to vote for a candidate(s) based mostly only on some kind of bias.[Remember, Republicans have been very successful in getting millions of Americans to vote contrary to their economic best interests for decades.]There used to be the dominant public value of the "preferential option for the poor," but that ideology is not so much in vogue with Catholic feudal oligarchs these days that never seem to miss a chance to take a swipe at women or gays/lesbians. When it comes to Obama, most Catholics who won't vote for Obama despite that he best represents their supposed religious values in the public square, as well as their economic interests, because, let's face it, Obama just isn't white enough for them.Besides, politically for Obama there are other, bigger [voting block] fish to fry such as Latinos and gays and lesbians than ideologically bound Catholics. There is also some evidence that the Obama administrations almost four year effort, led by Michelle Obama, to court military families is starting to pay-off. The President must find a way to get enough of the "99%ers" to the polls to overcome billionaire plutocrats and, I guess, their chaplains: Catholic bishops.Personally, if Catholic educational, health care or social service agencies can deny full contraceptive health services to women, then these Catholic institutions should forfeit all federal or state support for any of their programs.Last time I checked, the 14th Amendment still protects all citizens to "equal protection of the law." I have to believe that this applies to women, even for Catholic hierarchs?In other words, Notre Dame should kiss all that federal money goodbye it takes in that comes to them in the form of federal research grants and student aid, etc.American Catholic bishops have thrown in their political lot with all the corporate plutocrats who believe in only that all profits should be privatized and all losses should be socialized. After all, Catholic oligarchs have demonstrated to us again and again that they will spend their money willingly in desperate political gambits to defend their Second Estate. Maybe this ["Aprs moi, le deluge"] attitude will lead eventually to another French Revolution??? Somewhere a modern day Catholic Madame Defarge is busy knitting away keeping track of whose head should someday roll.

I've refrained from this more than wide discssion, but I'll add some wide perceptions of my own.The CHA is trying to move the conversation forward (ubder duress or not?) in a more rational way than the USCCB was.The Bishops""Fortnight For Freedom" is awful: if they're concerned about freedom -it should be about freedom from big moneyed PACS (an "abomination" as per Mark Shields on the NewsHour Friday night), not the freedom of their command/control Church.While it's nice the Bishops backed POTUS on the immigration action (some eye on 'Browning", when poverty came up, the redoubtable Cardinal from NY limited discussion to 14 inutes so his pasta wouldn't be al dente.What worries me abvout cHA is the real impact on its workers and services.Here in NM, Christus St, Vinent took over Santa Fe"s major hospiutal scene with lots of complainsts from its work force (nurses particulalry,) and op ed pieces that were hardly thrilled.It strikes me that Church leadership continues to be way too much inward looking in its mission/service approach.Like many in government today who can't compromise and who are creatures of big money, ordinary peoples' lives are expendable.(That goes for the big money lawyers mentioned here too,)The second largest denomnination in the US is 'ex Catholic'.No matter the many reasons, they are expendable.What matters is perogative and politics and money.However this turns out or whatever the Supreme court does or doesn't on health care, it strikes me that the lives of ordinary people are secondary- and that's shameful.

"Allowing this controversy to simmer much longer could end up costing him key votes and health-care reform itself."Seriously? This is a single issue, like abortion, and I find it unlikely that the Catholic voters who supported a presidential candidate who said that taking a position on abortion was "above my pay grade" will jump ship over this. Is there any polling data that shows that an overwhelming number of Catholics who supported Obama in 2008 are planning to change their vote because of the exemption clause?A quick search gave me this from February in Reuters:"A new poll released Tuesday by the Public Religion Research Institute, a non-partisan research group whose board members include a number of religious leaders who have supported progressive causes, found that a majority of Americans - including 58 percent of Catholics - support a requirement that health insurance plans provide free birth control. A slight majority of Catholic voters, 52 percent, said religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals should also have to provide that benefit." just don't see the Bishops succeeding in making this about freedom of religion rather than contraception, and I think that most "Obama Catholics" intuitively see the goals of the former being promoted by increased access to the latter. And those that weren't "Obama Catholics" before the mandate, are certainly not going to change teams if Obama all of the sudden admits that he "over reached." Caving in at this point will only give the Republicans more ammunition, not less.

Yes, seriously. Because what you and Jean seem to miss is that national polls do not predict how people will vote in swing states. Those outcomes can be decided by narrow margins, and, in turn have an enormous impact on the electoral vote. We don't live in a direct democracy.Also, I think it's silly to call this a cave-in. The original structure of the exemption lacked federal statutory precedent, and put forward a sectarian view of religious practice that Catholics ought to find untenable, if not stupid.

Apparently the USCCB has still not caught on to the monster fact that the bishops no longer command our respect. They won't influence us anymore no matter how loud they shout. That's why they'll make no difference in the Nov. election.Sound and fury . . .

Jim Jenkins... is right on 14th Amendment rights and health care and the forfeiture of federal funds of some proportion if an institution has a consience problem" with legal services. That the Hyde Amendment has stood up seems incredible to me even though I oppose aborion.I think this may be as much to do with LCWR and the bishops as the principles involved. Cynical? Perhaps, but who knows the battles under the surface...Maybe Scalia's structure is wrong, but the IRS code is far from right.

Jean: I didn't say everything will go down the tubes if this isn't fixed. This is about the margins. And not shooting oneself in the foot when there's a political option that could actually expand your policy goal. As for Hyde: The USCCB endorsed it during the health-care debate. It's called prudential judgment. And the tradition has never taught that withholding taxes was required when the government could do something immoral with pooled cash. Sorry.

Everytime I hear the term "prudential judgement" I think of theocon cafeteria-Catholics.It would be nice to come up with a different expression that isn't quite so tainted.

I think I understand Grant's "fix it now or everything's down the tubes" reasoning,but I'm still not buying it. Apologies in advance for going in several directions below:1. The main objection to the health care bill (59 percent of Americans are on the fence or disapprove of it) is the mandatory coverage clause, not the contraception clause. Whether mandatory coverage is constitutional will be decided by the Supreme Court. If they say it IS constitutional, a lot of people will remain disgruntled about the mandatory coverage clause and will not be likely to vote for Obama.2. The contraception flap is of concern to fewer people (how many fewer, I admittedly don't know), but my guess is that it's mostly white Catholic administrators and clergy. 3. Some of those Catholics might be persuaded to support the health care act if some accommodation is reached, but, given the increasing right-wing lean among Catholics, I can't see how that necessarily translates to votes for Obama ("the most pro-choice president ever").After Bush-Gore, I agree that just a few votes can make a difference in swing states. So I guess Obama COULD get some critical votes in swing states by making the folks at the CHA happy. But might further accommodation with the CHA turn off other blocks of voters who feel that women should have access to contraceptives? Those folks would likely NOT go vote for Romney, but they might stay home.Moreover, I contended earlier that shifting the burden of contraception to the government (i.e., taxpayers) would likely not fly with Catholic voters who don't want to pay for other people's contraceptives. You replied that my contention was "incompatible with Catholic tradition, which does not hold that one cannot pay taxes because the government will or could use the money to pay for something immoral." If that's so, how did the Hyde Amendment, which prevents tax money used for something immoral, get passed?

Raber says I make weird, constricted throat noises when I'm on this thread and that I should take a break again.

Jean Raber: "Moreover, I contended earlier that shifting the burden of contraception to the government (i.e., taxpayers) would likely not fly with Catholic voters who dont want to pay for other peoples contraceptives." Bingo. I'd count the same bishops who've been loudly hostile to every other compromise proposed by the government among them. If the government adopted this idea, they'd object that ALL Catholics, including themselves, and every other American citizen who objects to contraception are being FORCED to pay for contraceptives. Yadayadayada. It would still be beneficial to Obama and to everybody concerned if the government would simply extend the definition of religious employer, i.e., exempt status, to CHA and other such institutions. The bishops could then claim victory, and I'd bet there are still Catholics out there who'd vote for Obama if the bishops weren't beating the drum against him so loudly. For the middle class, not to mention the poor and unemployed, his economic policies beat Romney's hands-down; and, for a few older Americans, including Catholics, it's still an unwritten rule learned at mama's (if not papa's) knee to vote for the Democrat whenever you're down and out.Unfortunately for Obama, extending the exemption would mean breaking a promise to women employees of these organizations that contraception would be covered under the new health care rules without copays. What to do about that? For what it's worth, I think offering all women whose group health plans don't cover contraception the opportunity to deal directly with their insurance companies to obtain coverage without copays is a potentially workable solution. Women might even be willing to pay a certain amount out of pocket for the added benefit. But if insurance companies really do think they save in the long run by covering such services fully, and would be willing to offer them free of charge to a certain number of women, why not offer it to all who need it (still a small percentage overall)?That would take some negotiating, and cooperation from an industry that clearly wants Obama and his health care bill to fail every bit as much as do certain rightwing members of the American episcopacy. But still, in reality a satisfactory resolution to this problem will benefit all parties in the end. Keeping it unresolved hurts Obama more than it helps anyone else. Unfortunately, hurting Obama seems to be the one goal all those opposing him seem willing to pursue.

My apologies if I distorted your contention, Grant; I'm not good at nuance, but it seems to me that if the margins are everything in a squeaker like this, then it's fix it or it's down the tubes, no? Also, I really don't understand why my analogy re taxpayers and contraception and taxpayer and abortion doesn't work. Seriously, I don't understand why Catholics, who raised objections to paying for abortions with tax dollars, wouldn't raise issues about contraception. Moreover, why should I foot the bill for contraception for employees of Catholic organizations, even if it only amounts to pennies any more than I should have to pay taxes to supplement WalMart employees who aren't paid a living wage? I've already got my own damn meds to pay for that control my blood pressure so I can respond to threads like this. Maybe the bishops could pay for my blood pressure meds and I could pay for the contraception their employees want! Frankly, I can see Obama getting distracted trying to make Catholics (who probably won't vote for him anyway) while those most likely to vote for him feel he's selling out THEIR interests, thinking about how Romney's got more money, that it's all rigged, so they'll just stay home.

Sorry, my post crossed with Beverly. What she said. Glad I'm making sense to somebody. Though maybe Beverly should be worried. :-)

Jim Jenkins: "When it comes to Obama, most Catholics who wont vote for Obama despite that he best represents their supposed religious values in the public square, as well as their economic interests, because, lets face it, Obama just isnt white enough for them."I'm sure there's a racial component involved in all Obama hating (otherwise, what ARE people talking about when they say they want their country back, as if some alien power had taken it from them?), but from my own experience with churchgoing Catholics who say they *can't* vote for Obama, many *are* listening to the bishops and to what they hear at church on Sundays (albeit in conservative Catholic parishes). They've sublimated every other interest to how they believe God requires them to vote; they just don't think a lot about politics anymore, since overturning Roe v Wade and stopping abortion seems so overridingly important. That's what the bishops say; that's what the Pope apparently says, that's what they've come to believe. Ever since John Paul II put ending legal abortion as a top priority for Catholics, considering how politics works both here and in most other countries, that's meant sublimating one's own needs -- and the needs of the poor, the sick, and all those other groups bishops sometimes still mention -- to criminalizing abortion and other potential threats to life, such as euthanasia. When our religious leaders set the standards out this way, a certain number of Catholics are going to follow.

Just to review the starting point for this negotiation.HHS has defined two kinds of organizations that are exempt from including contraception in their Healh plans:1. Those that meet the four-point definition: mainly churches, religious orders, people who work directly for a diocese, some elementary and high schools and groups related to parishes.2. Non-profit organizations that have religious objections to contraception*. That covers Catholic hospitals, Catholic universities, Catholic Charities and anyone else religiously opposed to contraception - as long as they are a non-profit organization (no Taco Bells)The difference between the two groups is that employees of the first group do not get free contraception under their employer's plan and also don't get it free from anyone else.The employees of the second group do not get free contraception under their employer's plan but do get it free from someone else. As I understand the CHA letter, what they want to change is A. Fold the second group into the first so that employees of group 2 (hospitals, etc) don't get free contraception from anyone. Or,B. Have the government provide free contraception to the employees of group 2 (of both groups?) to avoid having them paid for by an insurance company or plan administrator who is receiving other payments from the employer.The CHA letter leaves out the limitation that group 2 organization must be non-profit - thereby letting in Taco Bell) but I doubt they feel strongly about that since most (all?) of their members are non-profit. Seems as if a deal could be arrived at there.

Hit Submit before I typed in the asterisk:*and who haven't included contraception in their health plan since February of 2010.

This letter appeared in the Washington Post over the weekend....while Catholics absolutely have the right to enter the public arena to protest government policy that they view as incompatible with beliefs of conscience or faith, they do not contrary to their apparent beliefs have a corresponding right to be obeyed.The public arena is already occupied by many other groups with their own beliefs and agendas. The deal in the United States is that all those groups duke it out, and usually not everyones needs are equally filled. That is the price of living in a democracy. We all pay for things we find deeply immoral. This time its the Catholics turn to be irked. Next time its mine. Then its yours.Please: Join the public arena. Protest. But holding your breath until you turn blue, or having lots of members in swing states, does not mean that we are all obligated to fall in line. Or that you get to be offended that we havent.Alicia Parks, Derwood

Couple of more thoughts:the impact on elections in all this is far from clear cut and Grant and Jean both have points to make,As I noted eledwhere , seems that we are losing more and more young people not only to the Church but beleief in Gof even with one reason being Church is seen as "too political."My question: are we biting our nose? ......

Bob, I don't think this needs to be a political issue. The government has a standard for defining "religious organization," and the Church wants it to be broader. As the letter Angela posted above notes (thank you, Angela), this is something that always has to get hashed out, sometimes over a long time. I have made many references in the past to the fact that accommodation for the Amish re the military started evolved over many decades, starting during the Civil War.If we weren't in an election year in what looks to be a pretty close presidential race with the social safety net hanging in the balance, my guess is that there might be more measured discussion about this. I sense that some on the left want to give in ASAP to garner what they see is critical support for Obama and the ACA.And I sense that some on the right will continue to jabber about religious liberty no matter what concessions Obama makes just to keep things stirred up.

The Cardinal Newman Society doesn't like the CHA proposal:

The Catholic Health Association (CHA) and its leader, Obamacare advocate Sr. Carol Keehan, DC, haveapparently reversed their position and now stand inopposition to the Obamaadministrations inadequate accommodation on the HHS contraceptive mandate.Kudos for that!Butasis becoming a tiresome habitfor CHA, theyarent standing entirely with the bishops. CHA says in todays letter to HHS that it wants the contraceptive mandates exemption broadened to cover all ministries of the Church, just as the bishops have argued. Yet in direct contradiction to the bishops, CHA is pushing for a new definition of religious organizations that could prove even worse than the Obama administrations currentlanguage. And if accepted, the CHA definition could be a disaster for the cause of religious liberty and for Catholic higher education.The Cardinal Newman Society has been warning about thissince last December,after CHA and the University of Notre Dame both recommended to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius similar solutions, drawing on language in Section 414(e) of the Internal Revenue Code that exempts church-related pension plans from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).Read more:

I deplore the partisan/culture-war rhetoric of the Cardinal Newman Society in the blog post referenced by John Hayes directly above, but its legal argument may be worthy of consideration (or so it seems to this non-lawyer).

Grant raises a somewhat interesting question of whether the administration will expand its religious entity exemption. It is only somewhat interesting because the administration has unequivocally said it will not do so, because of the same hardcore ideology that led the people it to be originally drafted in 3 states, and now nationalized. A much more interesting question is what will Grant and Commonweal do when everyone must admit that the exemption is off the table, and that this adminstration is so extreme it refuses to listen even to Sr. Keehan. Will they just call this a "marginal" question, or will they side with religious freedom principles? The extremists in the White House are going to show us all the answer to that question, unless the Supreme Court interevenes first.

Anitra, if President Obama did exactly what Sr. Keehan told him to do in this situation, would you vote for him?

"Thats what the bishops say; thats what the Pope apparently says, thats what theyve come to believe." But they still practice contraception at a rate no different from the general population. They still cheat on their spouses and their taxes, no matter what the pope and bishops allegedly teach. They still divorce. What is so important about abortion - particularly when so many of them practice themselves, or tacitly endorse their daughters/sisters/cousins practicing it?

It's a bit amazing that an administration that takes into account that it represents and proposes laws that effect the ENTIRE country, not just a select few, is considered to be "extremist."

Jean: You wrote, "why should I foot the bill for contraception for employees of Catholic organizations, even if it only amounts to pennies any more than I should have to pay taxes to supplement WalMart employees who arent paid a living wage?" You are already paying for other people's contraception through tax dollars that fund Title X and Medicaid programs. Just like you are paying to put food in the mouths of hungry people. And for bombs. And textbooks for kids you'll never meet. Catholics are permitted to pay taxes even though they may pay for immoral acts because taxation itself is required to serve the common good, and once you pay a tax your money is mingled with other people's tax dollars -- it's licit remote material cooperation. I'm not clear on your question about Hyde. It's a compromise. The bishops are OK with it because they know they can't get the votes to pass a version that actually conforms to Catholic teaching. And from the perspective of Catholic teaching abortion is a graver evil than contraception.Anitra: You contend that "the administration has unequivocally said" it won't revise the structure of the exemption. It has not. Some bishops have suggested as much. But that's not quite the same thing. But there's no point in arguing about this, is there? Because you think the White House is full of extremists. By the way: Are you spoofing your IP address?

Jean, regarding the CHA proposal, the only way to resolve this affront to religious freedom is, as I have suggested to Grant, to simply conform the mandate to RFRA by exempting any religious objector from it. But though the CHA position would not do that, it is interesting that Obama is too extreme to follow even CHA's advice.

Grant, even the current "rulemaking" brainstorming session disavows any intent to expand the exemption--it exists entirely to "accomodate non-exempt entities." You are the only one who believes otherwise, and your view is on a collision course with history. If the Supreme Court doesn't strike down Obamacare one of two things will happen on this question before the election: either the administration will propose a rule (not finalize one, that is impossible so soon, the entire process will start again) which does not expand the exemption; or, more likely, nothing will happen because reading tens of thousands of comments takes months and months and the administration never suggested it would propose a new rule before the election anyway, it said it would finish things before Aug 2013 (you don't still think they will issue a new rule this Wednesday, do you? unless you admit they don't give a fig about what the thousands of comments that were just submitted actually say).

Anitra, personally, as far as I'm concerned, there is already a definition on the books of "religious organization," and I see no reason to change it. I see no affront to religious freedom in the situation as it stands. My question to YOU, which is germane to the conversation and which you have not bothered to answer, is whether you would vote for President Obama if he did whatever you want him to do on the contraception issue? Grant is pushing the point that Obama will win a small but significant number of Catholic voters in swing states if he satisfies them on this issue.So: Is there any way, short of hell freezing over, that you would vote for President Obama? Simple yes or no.My GUESS is that your answer, given the way you're flinging around "affront" and "extremist," would be no. Which would illustrate my contention, however anecdotally, that Catholics are not going to be persuaded to vote for Obama based on this issue.

"personally, as far as Im concerned, there is already a definition on the books of religious organization,"I'm not sure which one you are referring to. RFRA says that any free exercise of religion gets protection from federal mandates. If that is the definition you mean, you are right that it is on the books and is controlling, but you are wrong that no change is needed, because the HHS Mandate violates it by constricting free exercise of religion to a far smaller category. I agree with you that there are some people who will oppose Obama in any event, and some who will support him in any event. I don't think that proves your contention, which is that no swing voters exist on this margin in a battleground state. If bishops and parishes are making noise about this, with super pacs and whatever using it as a live issue, it is sure to leave a bad taste in some voters that may well help push them over the edge. You are willing to gamble otherwise--so, for that reason, I hope you get a high ranking position in the Obama campaign.

"licit remote material cooperation"OK, I knew I was missing something, and there it is! The the loophole I was looking for that allows Catholic religious organizations to fob off paying for contraception off on the taxpayers so their administrators don't go to hell: They let Catholic and other taxpayers pay it so the sin is once removed and will only cost you a few thousand years in Purgatory instead of eternal damnation.I'm sorry, but this is why I have made such a bad Catholic. It all seems so legalistic and weasel-wordy to me.Why can't we just do our best to feed the poor, care for the sick, comfort the dying? It strikes me as a colossal waste of time and resources to spend so much time lobbying Congress to make sure that we're not paying for something that prevents the correct bodily fluids from ending up in the duly sanctioned anatomical locations without any artificial obstructions.

"Why cant we just do our best to feed the poor, care for the sick, comfort the dying?"If that is your only concern, why not just do it and not worry about what other people spend time and resources on?

My "only concern"?? Hoo, boy.

I've pre-ordered a copy of Cardinal Dolan's new book - to be downloaded to my iPad on Monday.LINK

TrueFreedomOn Protecting Human Dignity and Religious LibertyCardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New YorkAre American liberties on the endangered species list? In this eBook original, the Archbishop of New York and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issues a plea for all citizens to reject the cynicism of the day and foster a culture in which religious freedom and all human life are infinitely valued.Religion and the dignity of human life are under attack by a variety of threats in the modern world including abortion, infanticide, eugenics, misuse of artificial reproductive technologies, an unjust distribution of economic resources, war, the arms trade, drugs, and human trafficking. What can be done to stop this? Cardinal Timothy Dolan explains the need for all Americans to embrace a new culture rooted in what Blessed John Paul II called the Gospel of Life where the sacredness of all human life, and the freedoms that are their birthright, are upheld, respected and protected by law.

The Catholic League complains that John Ghering at Faith in Public Life has sent a briefing paper to reporters, editors and columnists suggesting questions to ask bishops about The "Fortnight for Freedom"Ghering also provides a list of experts to interview: N. Cafardi, T. Tilley, L. S. Cahill, M. C. Kaveney, T. Reese, J. Behring, and P. Lakeland. memo:

The Bishops, Catholic Charities, many religious sisters, and now even Fr. Jenkins and Sr. Keehan "do their best" to care and educate, and they all disagree with you about what is a "collosal waste" of their time "lobbying". So why not respect their decision about what is a good use of their time?

This whole story of both the Bishops and now even the CHA coming out against the HHS mandate contained in the ACA, is why Obamacare will not stand; it is fundamentally flawed in that it tries to boss people around so. Bear in mind also, that this particular HHS mandate is only one of the many too-pushy things in this 2000 page monstrosity.The single-payer, minimal federal health policy, one upon which we all could then build our own private health plans, would eliminate these moral controversies. Churches do not pay taxes and so are not complicit in services the federal government provides. Render unto Caesar . . . The people (i.e. the voters) drive the ship of state, and would accordingly periodically review and adjust the national health policy as needed. Like the Mexico City policy then, the national policy would occasionally change in order to be a reflection of the values of the majority of society. In short, when Democrats would take power, the federal government would hand out free bc pills and the like. Conversely, when Republicans hold the majority, the federal government would not be handing out such things for free.Majority rules via representative democracy. Wow - that seems reasonable enough. I wonder who thought of that sort of thigng?

Oops meant to say ".... voters, with good counsel from their respective Churches to inform their consciences, drive the ship of state . . ."

Early in Cardinal Dolan's book, released today, he discusses Evangelium Vitae and makes the tradtional "natural law" argument:

John Paul II directs his teaching not just to Catholics, not just to Christians or people of faith, but to all people of goodwill. This is rather important. True enough, his teaching is expressed in terms of religious belief, but this fundamental concept of the sacredness of all human lifewhich deserves dignity, respect, and protection by lawis rooted in natural law, a source of ingrained principles accessible to all, not just religious folks. Natural law is a concept of objective truth, known by anyone with the power of reason. For instance, it is always and everywhere wrong to deliberately take the life of an innocent person. This is an objective truth, and it is not relativized by the special interests of religious preference, class, gender, or individual bias.
This idea that it's a kind of slam-dunk win if you can say that your position is based on natural law leads to the feeling that anyone who disagrees with your position is either ignorant, evil or irrational and relieves you of the obligation of respecting that person's position and, in making decisions for civil society, working to find a compromise that allows people who hold different views to live together peacefully.If natural law were truly independent of religious belief, then each person could form a personal judgment of what natural law requires. However, in Humanae Vitae, Paul VI lays out clearly that it is the Church's role to interpret the natural law and determine the "objective truth" that results from it.Although we no longer say "error has no rights" the view that every rational person should accept the "objective truth" defined by the Church based on natural law can create a similar barrier to arriving at answers to the question of "what should the civil law require."As we can see from the current debate over the HHS mandate.

Sorry, the blockquote should have ended after the second paragraph. The rest of the comment is mine.

Why cant we just do our best to feed the poor, care for the sick, comfort the dying?If that is your only concern, why not just do it and not worry about what other people spend time and resources on?"Because as a Catholic who contributes to her parish, it is my money, too, that the USCCB is spending on this. And as a Catholic, when the USCCB speaks in the public square, it is important to me whether my priorities are their priorities.It's not "other peoples" time and treasure they're spending, its all of ours. I'm with Jean.