- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A diverse group of religious leaders is pressing the Obama administration to exempt any American who objects to the contraception mandate in the federal health care law.

Catholics, Mormons, Southern Baptists and dozens more issued an “Open Letter to all Americans” on Tuesday that decries the birth control coverage requirement as a departure from the country’s founding principles of religious freedom.

Their missive and public remarks are sure to maintain a spotlight on a high-profile battle over the provision in the Affordable Care Act, which requires many employers to insure a wide range of contraceptives in their health plans or face penalties.

“We’re not going to back down on this question,” Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, told reporters at a news conference in downtown Washington.

Their public challenge comes four days after the Obama administration refused to relax its approach for religiously affiliated nonprofits such as schools and hospitals, as well as private corporations that object to the mandate.

Mirroring a proposal it put forth in February, the Department of Health and Human Services said Friday it will allow faith-based hospital and universities to insure contraceptives through special third-party policies, without having to manage or pay for the services.

The Most Rev. William E. Lori, archbishop of Baltimore, said America’s bishops are still reviewing the decision, but that the administration’s final rule closely mirrors an official position the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops rejected earlier this year.

Others have criticized the final rule in stronger terms.

“We’re not so easily hypnotized by bureaucratic parlor tricks,” Mr. Moore said Tuesday.

They said many signatories on their open letter opposing the mandate likely have no problem with contraceptives.

But that’s not the point, they added. arguing their focus is on whether the mandate creates a three-tier system to determine religious liberties.

“That change is worth spending a lot of time on,” Archbishop Lori said.

Specifically, churches and other actual houses of worship that object will still be exempt from the requirement; faith-based nonprofits have received an accommodation to divorce themselves from the mandate by not having to manage or pay for the contraceptives; and for-profit entities have obtained no relief.

The Obama administration cited the prevalent use and health benefits of using contraceptives when it included the birth control coverage mandate in the law.

Dozens of for-profit corporations have filed lawsuits over the mandate on religious or moral grounds. Many analysts think the issue is headed for the Supreme Court, because federal appellate courts have handed down divergent rulings on the question.

Challengers to the mandate particularly object to contraceptives taken after sex, such as Plan B or Ella, which they equate with abortion.

“That is very problematic for a lot of people,” Archbishop Lori said.

Supporters of the mandate, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, argue employers shouldn’t be able to force their views onto their employees.

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