HHS Guidelines Violate Liberty of Catholic Colleges

From the Cardinal Newman Society press release:

New health plan guidelines announced by the Obama Administration would significantly violate the religious liberty of Catholic colleges and universities and the families who entrust students to Catholic education.

“The HHS guidelines would force Catholic colleges to violate the law or violate the Catholic faith,” said Patrick J. Reilly, President of The Cardinal Newman Society. “Neither option is acceptable.

“It appears that Catholic colleges will be forced into the untenable position of helping students as well as employees obtain free contraceptives and sterilization,” Reilly said. “Our religious freedom is under attack.”

Under the new guidelines to be implemented as part of the Affordable Care Act signed into law last year, health plans will be required to cover without co-pay “all Food and Drug Administration approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity.”

The guidelines include a very narrow religious exemption that applies primarily to churches, but would likely not exempt most Catholic colleges and universities that serve students regardless of their religious beliefs. The guidelines exempt a religious employer that “(1) has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a non-profit organization…” Such language has been used in California and other states to ensure that most religious organizations are not exempted from contraceptive mandates.

“The HHS language is ambiguous and likely to be interpreted with a bias against Catholic agencies,” Reilly said. “For instance, does a college ‘primarily’ serve Catholic students if more than half the students are Catholic? 75 percent? What is the threshold? It’s left to the discretion of federal bureaucrats who have demonstrated repeated disregard for Catholic institutions.”

“Meanwhile, this only increases the importance of Catholic colleges ensuring a strong and consistent Catholic identity, including clear ‘hiring for mission’ policies, so that they can demand First Amendment protection from unfair laws and regulations,” Reilly added.

The Cardinal Newman Society has raised serious concerns about increasing threats to the religious liberty of Catholic colleges and universities. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has failed to reply to an appeal from Belmont Abbey College, which was charged with “discrimination” for refusing to include contraceptives in its employee health plan. This year the National Labor Relations Board has twice ignored federal court rulings and asserted jurisdiction over Catholic colleges. An attorney is suing The Catholic University of America for allegedly violating the District of Columbia Human Rights Act by reverting to single-sex dorms.

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