The HHS Mandate is Getting a “Facelift”

Here is a letter from The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, detailing what’s ahead for the HHS Mandate cases for non-profits like the Little Sisters of the Poor:

Under the relentless pressure of 100 lawsuits and several court orders, the government has announced it will issue a new version of the Health and Human Services mandate on or before August 22.

By our count, this is the 9th round of concessions.

(As you know, the HHS mandate forces—under the penalty of hefty fines—most employers to provide health coverage for all FDA-approved contraceptives, including the four drugs and devices that the government concedes can prevent implantation of a fertilized egg).

This is a quick recap of the last 3 years since the mandate was first issued:

Round #1: August 1, 2011: The government issued one of the narrowest religious exemptions we have ever seen. As one Roman Catholic bishop remarked, not even Jesus’ ministry would have qualified for this exemption.

First lawsuit: Shortly thereafter, the Becket Fund filed the first-ever suit against the mandate, brought on behalf of the monks at Belmont Abbey College.

Round #2: February 2012: The government finalized its hyper-restrictive exemption “without change” but gave the thousands of religious organizations like the Little Sisters, whose ministries were considered by the government too broad to qualify, a one year “Safe Harbor.” Translation: Religious ministries, we won’t budge.

Round #3: Friday, March 16, 2012 at 5:52 pm: Late on a Friday afternoon—just in time to miss the Washington, DC news cycle—the government admits that its original exemption was too narrow, and promises to create some kind of “accommodation” for the thousands of religious non-profits that don’t qualify for the exemption.

How about religious colleges and universities? Little Sisters? Still not exempted.

Premier Evangelical School sues: The Becket Fund sues on behalf of Wheaton College.

Round #4: August 15, 2012: The government admits, in response to a lawsuit by Wheaton College, that its original Safe Harbor was too narrow, and so it broadens the Safe Harbor to include organizations like Wheaton. Translation: the government is still buying time.

Round #5: February 1, 2013: The government admits that its first exemption for houses of worship was too narrow, and so it proposes to remove the requirement that houses of worship hire and serve only people of their own faith. But if you happen to operate a religious ministry that is not controlled and owned by a church, temple or synagogue, you’re still not covered. Little Sisters of the Poor? Still not religious enough, according to the government.

Round #6: Jun 28, 2013: The government extends its “Safe Harbor” for another six months (now totaling two years).

Round #7: July 2, 2013: The government finalizes its second exemption and announces an “accommodation” for other religious organizations that requires them to designate their insurer or health benefits administrator to deliver contraceptives on their behalf. The “accommodation” completely ignores the hundreds of religious organizations who receive health benefits through church-operated benefit plans.

First Class Action lawsuit against the mandate: In September 2013, the Becket Fund files the first class action lawsuit against the mandate on behalf of the Little Sisters of the Poor and their religious health benefits provider, Christian Brothers. A month later we file another class action suit on behalf of mission organization Reaching Souls International and the Southern Baptist Convention’s health benefits ministry, GuideStone.

Supreme Court Victory in Little Sisters of the Poor: On New Year’s Eve 2013, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor orders the government to stop enforcing the mandate against the Little Sisters of the Poor while the Supreme Court considers their emergency appeal. In January, the Supreme Court grants the Little Sisters lasting protection while their case makes its way through the courts.

Supreme Court Victory in Hobby Lobby: On June 30, 2014, the Supreme Court rules that the government cannot require the Green family and their family-owned business Hobby Lobby to provide emergency contraceptive coverage to their employees.

Supreme Court Victory in Wheaton College: On July 3, 2014, the Supreme Court orders the government to stop enforcing the mandate against Wheaton College while its case makes its way through the courts.

Round #8: July 22, 2014: The government admits—after Supreme Court losses in Hobby Lobby, Little Sisters of the Poor, and Wheaton College—that the current accommodation needs to be changed, and so it announces that it will issue a new regulation.

Our lawyers at the Becket Fund have led the fight against the Health and Human Services mandate. We have filed nine high-visibility lawsuits including the first one (Belmont Abbey College), the largest for-profit (Hobby Lobby), and the first class action lawsuit (Little Sisters and Christian Brothers).

Our miniscule, but powerfully effective, team is fighting a gigantic government bureaucracy with an endless supply of lawyers, time and money.

But, we are winning.

Let’s see what the new version of the mandate brings. But, whatever it is, we will continue to fight for the religious liberty of our clients. Thanks for your continued support!

 

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