By Marjorie Jeffrey (@MarjorieJeffrey)
Much news has come in the past few days involving the fight for religious freedom in the United States: most prominently, Supreme Court rulings on homosexual marriage. What went slightly less publicized was the release of the Department of Health and Human Services final rulemaking on the contraception mandate for religious organizations.
The good news is that the “safe harbor” deadline for compliance with the mandate by religious employers has been extended from Aug. 1, 2013, to Jan. 1, 2014. But the final rules for the mandate don’t seem to have changed much at all: that is, they have no satisfied the conflict of conscience that religious employers have with the mandate itself.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty rapidly released a statement on the final rule from Deputy General Counsel Eric Rassbach:
“Unfortunately the final rule announced today is the same old, same old. As we said when the proposed rule was issued, this doesn’t solve the religious conscience problem because it still makes our non-profit clients the gatekeepers to abortion and provides no protection to religious businesses. The easy way to resolve this would have been to exempt sincere religious employers completely, as the Constitution requires. Instead this issue will have to be decided in court.”
Cardinal Timothy Dolan has said that more time is needed for the US Catholic bishops to thoroughly study the final wording of the 110-page mandate.
This ruling comes in tandem with some good news for for-profit religious employers such as Hobby Lobby, as a 10th Circuit Court has provided a temporary restraining order to shield the company from massive financial penalties resulting from their refusal to violate their religious beliefs. The final HHS rules provide no accommodation for for-profit companies.
All of these developments come during the Fortnight for Freedom, organized by the US Council of Catholic Bishops, which ends on July 4th. While the fight for religious liberty goes on in the culture and the courts, it is remembered in the prayers of the faithful as well.
The Fortnight’s closing Mass will be offered on July 4 at 12:00 p.m. at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated by Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington.