Catholic bishops are having conniption fits over a recent HHS regulation which requires employers which provide health insurance to employees to have coverage which includes contraceptives. The HHS regulation is comparable to 28 states which have laws which also require insurers to have such coverage as part of their policies. The regulation, as do many states’ laws, explicitly excludes purely religious institutions from its purview but, schools, hospitals and foundations among others would be included.
Many critics of the regulation call it a “mandate” but, the requirement is only imposed as to those employers which voluntarily provide insurance coverage as an employee benefit. If the employers chose to not directly provide insurance coverage to their employees as a benefit, they would have no requirement to provide the contraceptive coverage to which the bishops and other religious groups and employers object.
If the institutions covered by the new regulation were to instead provide a cash benefit to an employee equivalent to the cost of health insurance for that employee and their dependents, there would be no conflict between the regulation and the “conscience” of the respective religious institutions. The employees then would be free to exercise their individual informed conscience as to what coverage they would then purchase, if any, from the health insurance exchanges which must be set up by next year under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Some employees might instead choose to pay the new fines under the ACA and keep the difference in cash they obtained from their employer.
All I see here is more anti-Obama rhetoric by neo-conservative Catholic Bishops much as was ado about nothing over the supposed threat of the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA). Even before President Obama took office we Catholics were bombarded with scares and flares of inflammatory rhetoric about how the first thing President Obama would do as President would be to sign FOCA into law. Post cards were laid in pews, to be signed and after strident sermons against FOCA, to be sent to Washington opposing FOCA. Just as there is now no “mandate” regarding the choice of employers to provide any particular benefit, no such bill even existed at the time of the scares and flares. It was all shark control on the Mississippi.
The whole shibboleth about “religious freedom” is a stalking horse for the neo-conservative bishops to inflame independent Catholic voters into supporting Republican candidates with their votes and reward the wealthy contributors to the Church which have taken over donations to the Church after the masses’ rebellion against the clergy sex abuse scandal in the US and abroad.
Religious freedom is not threatened by the recent Obama administration’s guidelines about employer’s voluntary benefits to employees. Religious freedom is threatened by the neo-conservative Catholic bishops’ adherence to a world view which only supports Republican candidates and wealthy contributors.