The announcement today from the Obama administration that it is granting a more robust accommodation for religious institutions who object to providing contraception coverage is a sensible move. The values of protecting women’s health and the conscience rights of religious employers should not be in conflict.
The provision that nearly all employers must provide contraceptive services under the federal health care reform law has sparked a long, messy fight between the Obama administration, Catholic bishops and some conservative evangelicals. This fight is far from over. A dozen separate legal challenges to the administration’s mandate are now winding through the courts. Because judges have reached different conclusions, the U.S. Supreme Court will likely make the final call.
The most significant news from today’s announcement is that the administration’s “four-part test” of what constitutes a “religious employer” — a major sticking point for Catholic universities, charities and hospitals — has been scrapped for a simpler IRS definition. Under the original proposal, employers could be exempt from the contraception mandate only if their purpose was to inculcate religious values, they primarily employed those who shared their religious tenets, primarily served those who shared their religious beliefs and were a nonprofit under federal tax law. The first three parts of that definition were a big problem for religiously affiliated institutions like Catholic hospitals, universities and charities. For Catholics, medical institutions and charities are not tangential to a religious commitment, but central to putting faith into practice. Respected Catholic organizations like the Catholic Health Association, which supported the health care reform law and has distanced itself from the strident rhetoric of some bishops had been urging the administration to make this fix. At the same time, the administration’s proposals announced today, which are open to a 60-day public comment period, will still ensure women have access to contraception coverage without a co-pay. This is a victory for women’s health and the conscience rights of religious employers.
It will take time for various religious organizations to digest the details of today’s announcement, and tensions won’t disappear overnight. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, put out a brief initial statement saying bishops “welcome the opportunity to study the proposed regulations closely.”
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Missouri Pastors urge elected officials to remember their moral obligation to defend vital safety-net programs for working poor families in Kansas City Star Op-Ed.
Frustrated with the slowing progress being made in the fiscal negotiations, Rev. Rayfield Burns and Pastor Jennifer Thomas of Missouri Faith Voices and Communities Creating Opportunity reminded lawmakers in an op-ed published today in the Kansas City Star that neglecting their duty to protect struggling Americans and seniors from an immoral “fiscal cliff” deal will leave many families economically vulnerable this holiday season.
With middle-class tax rates set to go up at the end of the year, Pastor Thomas and Rev. Burns are urging elected officials to remember the hundreds of thousands of Missouri children and families that depend on the Earned Income Tax Credit to meet their food and healthcare needs.
“At a time of staggering economic inequality, robust corporate profits, large deficits and historically low taxes on rich people, our leaders need to summon the courage to make powerful special interests pay their fair share. That starts with ending the Bush tax cuts for the richest Americans and closing loopholes for big, profitable corporations.”
Both Rev. Burns and Pastor Thomas agree that the nation cannot afford politicians to compromise on their commitments to fund Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. They point out:
“Any fiscal cliff deal that undermines the health or economic security of American families and fails to require rich and powerful special interests to pay their fair share is immoral. Our elected representatives have a grave responsibility to uphold our values of fairness, justice and shared sacrifice.”
Their voices are just two of many in the faith community that are calling on Congress to stand firm; there is too much at stake for them to waver in their commitment to the poor and vulnerable. The futures of low-income families and children as well as the general well-being of seniors and the disabled depend on lawmakers closing the inequality gap and demanding that the top 2% pay their fair share.
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In a compelling op-ed featured in The Hill, Rev. Jennifer Butler of Faith in Public Life and Gordon Whitman of the PICO National Network demonstrate how the ongoing fiscal debate has caused religious leaders of all faiths to speak out in defense of Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security on behalf of their congregations.
Progressive faith leaders are refusing to let elected officials neglect their moral responsibilities to working poor families by letting improvements to the Earned Income Tax Credit expire and forcing seniors and the disabled to bear the burden. They write,
“Inspired by the clear mandates of Scripture, many of our nation’s prominent faith leaders have drawn a circle of protection around programs such as education funding, food stamps, and the Earned Income Tax Credit. This stance reflects not only religious teachings about justice and compassion, but also popular opinion among people of faith.”
Rev. Butler and Whitman go on to say that excuses that the conservative movement uses to push for cuts in safety-net programs are unjustifiable:
“Using deficits caused by irresponsible tax cuts, unfunded wars, the financial crisis and an inefficient healthcare system as an auspice to weaken programs that ensure basic economic security and access to health care for millions of Americans is wrong. Arguing that we must slash these programs now to avoid destroying them later is a failure of leadership.”
There is a shared vision for the future of America among members of the faith community. It is clear that religious leaders are united in their commitment to protect the common good and economic well-being of millions of Americans.
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Today, a diverse coalition of national and state faith leaders held a press teleconference urging GOP governors to stop obstructing the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion plan that will provide healthcare to millions of uninsured, low-income Americans if fully implemented.
Despite the fact that the expanded coverage will save their states billions of dollars in uncompensated care costs, nine Republican governors have indicated their intention to reject the tens of billions of dollars in federal assistance offered to their states by the law.
As FPL executive director Jennifer Butler said on the call:
Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid will save lives and alleviate suffering for poor families without straining state budgets. It’s unconscionable that politicians would even consider refusing to accept it.
Sister Simone Campbell of NETWORK and “Nuns on the Bus” fame added:
I call on all governors to expand Medicaid coverage in order to save thousands of lives. My strong support of Medicaid expansion comes out of my pro-life stance because it is the right and moral thing to do.
Other call speakers included Melissa Boteach, Director of Half-in-Ten; Rev. Linda Hanna Walling, Executive Director of Faithful Reform in Healthcare; Rev. Rayfield Burns, Pastor of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist, Kansas City, MO; and Elder Marco A. Grimaldo, CEO & President of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.
Listen to the call here.
Supplementing the call is a letter expressing the same sentiment and signed by nearly 100 national and local faith leaders. Read that letter and see the full list of signers here.
The call and letter come in advance of the release of the United States Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage data on September 12th, which is expected to show that millions of Americans who would be affected by this expansion are suffering for lack of access to affordable health insurance.
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Earlier this summer, members of NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, boarded a bus in Des Moines, Iowa for a two week tour across the country to draw attention to those working families most affected by the severe social service cuts in Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal adopted by the House GOP.
Now, Missouri members of NETWORK are launching their own tour to warn of the danger of the Ryan budget for vulnerable Americans in their state.
Sister Mary Ann McGivern framed the moral questions raised by the tour:
“Do we choose to be a nation of individualism and fear where the rich get richer at the expense of those in need. Or do we reclaim the principles of our founders and work together for all people to form a more perfect union?”
The tour launched yesterday in Kansas City and continues this week with stops throughout the state. Along the way, the nuns will make special visits to Catholic-sponsored social service agencies, as well as to local congressional offices.
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