Agudath Israel of America on Wednesday and the Union of Orthodox Congregations on Tuesday released statements criticizing the action taken Jan. 20 by the Department of Health and Human Services.
As part of the Affordable Care Act, employer-provided health insurance plans are required to include contraception and related “preventive” services for employees, but there is an exemption in the law for houses of worship and other religious institutions.
Both Agudath Israel and the Orthodox Union were hoping the administration would expand the exemption for other religious organizations that do not necessarily fall into the category of houses of worship.
Full Press release from the OU:
The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization – criticized the decision announced late last Friday by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services denying requests to respect the conscience of religiously affiliated organizations in what benefits they are compelled to provide in their employees’ health insurance plans.
The Affordable Care Act requires that employer-provided health insurance plans must include contraception and related “preventative” services to employees free of charge. The law provides an exemption from this requirement to houses of worship and other religious institutions whose primary purpose is religious.
A diverse coalition of religious groups and institutions petitioned the Administration to expand this exemption to include a broader spectrum of religiously affiliated institutions. On Friday, the Obama Administration declined this request and ruled that, after one year, religious entities that employ people of other faiths on their staff or provides services to people of other faiths must include contraception and other preventative services in their employee insurance plans.
OU Executive Director for Public Policy Nathan Diament issued the following statement commenting on the Administration action:
In declining to expand the religious exemption within the healthcare reform law, the Obama Administration has disappointingly failed to respect the needs of religious organizations such as hospitals, social welfare organizations and more.
Most troubling, is the Administration’s underlying rationale for its decision, which appears to be a view that if a religious entity is not insular, but engaged with broader society, it loses its “religious” character and liberties. Many faiths firmly believe in being open to and engaged with broader society and fellow citizens of other faiths. The Administration’s ruling makes the price of such an outward approach the violation of an organization’s religious principles. This is deeply disappointing. The Orthodox Union will support legislation in Congress to reverse this policy.
Full Press release from Agudah:
In response to the HHS decision, Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s Vice President for Federal Government Affairs and Washington Director, said:
Agudath Israel of America is deeply disappointed by HHS’s refusal to amend its regulations that require health insurance plans provided by most religious employers to cover what they deem to be religiously-objectionable medical services. We believe that this mandate, which is binding on all faith-based entities other than a narrowly confined group of religious institutions, offends First Amendment principles.
But the concerns implicated by the agency’s rules go far beyond the scope of the specific employers and procedures involved here. The religious rights of faith-based entities vis-à-vis their employees is becoming one of the prominent religious liberty issues of our time and is manifest in a number of areas. Perhaps chief among them is its appearance within the medical context – both the religious rights of religious employers regarding coverage of religiously-objectionable medical services for their employees, as well as the religious rights of medical providers regarding provision of such services to their patients.
The Obama Administration had an opportunity to declare that there is a fundamental American value at stake here – religious freedom – and provide strong and unequivocal protections to religious employers. Instead, it took a step backwards by imposing religiously-objectionable mandates on countless religious entities, and by devising a cramped limitation on what “religious groups” are and what their public mission in society should be.