What just happened?: Obama’s anti-religious liberty shell game.

What just happened? That’s what many are asking after watching President Obama’s Friday announcement that he will be “accommodating” religious organizations that object to purchasing contraceptive and abortifacient coverage for their employees.
Hours later, the Administration released the final rule that contains the narrow waiver for churches.

In a separate document, the administration has issued a 1-year “safe harbor” waiver for non-exempted religious organizations.

Then, in a scheme akin to a shell game, instead of requiring non-church religious organizations to purchase contraceptive coverage, the Obama Administration says that in a future regulation it will require the organization’s insurance company to pay for the coverage.

But the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is not fooled by the Administration’s slight of hand.

[In] the case where the employee and insurer agree to add the objectionable coverage, that coverage is still provided as a part of the objecting employer's plan, financed in the same way as the rest of the coverage offered by the objecting employer. This, too, raises serious moral concerns.1

But the administration’s “accommodation” solution does nothing to address the concerns of self-insured religious organizations. The Administration recognizes this problem in its final rule, promises a solution, but gives no details. It merely says,

The Departments intend to develop policies to achieve the same goals for self-insured group health plans sponsored by non-exempted, non-profit religious organizations with religious objections to contraceptive coverage.2

As if only non-profit organizations could have religious opinions, no exemptions, waivers, accommodations, or safe harbors are given to business owners who may object to providing such coverage on religious grounds. The bishops argue that,

[T]he mandate would impose a burden of unprecedented reach and severity on the consciences of those who consider such “services” immoral: insurers forced to write policies including this coverage; employers and schools forced to sponsor and subsidize the coverage; and individual employees and students forced to pay premiums for the coverage. We therefore urged HHS, if it insisted on keeping the mandate, to provide a conscience exemption for all of these stakeholders—not just the extremely small subset of “religious employers” that HHS proposed to exempt initially.3

So, where exactly is the accommodation? Where exactly is the respect for religious liberty?

What just happened?

Let’s hope that we will get some answers on March 1st, when Sebelius is scheduled to appear before a House committee.

1 News Release, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, "Regulation changes limited and unclear; Rescission of mandate only complete solution; Continue urging passage of Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (Feb. 10, 2012)(emphasis in original), available at http://usccb.org/news/2012/12-026.cfm.

2 Group Health Plans and Health Insurance Relating to Coverage of Preventive Services Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, (to be codified at 29 C.F.R. § 2590 and 45 C.F.R. § 147), pages 13-14 available at http://www.ofr.gov/OFRUpload/OFRData/2012-03547_PI.pdf.

3 Supra note 1.