Religious leaders petition Sebelius for broader HHS exemption

Details, from RNS’s David Gibson:

A coalition of nearly 150 religious leaders, led by conservative Protestants, have petitioned the Obama administration to broaden the exemption that allows churches and some religious organizations to avoid a controversial new mandate that all health care insurers provide free contraception coverage.

In a letter sent Monday (June 11) to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the 149 religious leaders note that they hold differing views on “the moral acceptability” of birth control and on the viability of various administration proposals to allow faith-based groups to bypass the mandate for contraception and sterilization coverage.

But they said they share a strong objection to the language that defines which “religious” groups are eligible for an exemption, saying the definition creates a “two-class system” of religious groups: churches, which qualify under the wording of the exemption, and “faith-based service organizations,” which may or may not qualify.

“This two-class scheme protects those religious organizations focused on activities directed inward to a worship community while offering little religious freedom protection to the many religious organizations that engage in service directed outward,” the letter says…

…The letter to Sebelius was organized by Stanley Carlson-Thies, an architect of President George W. Bush’s faith-based office, and includes Ronald J. Sider, head of Evangelicals for Social Action; Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary; Samuel Rodriguez, head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; and David Neff, editor-in- chief of Christianity Today.

A dozen Catholic groups and individuals — mainly conservative colleges and activists — signed the letter but no Catholic bishops joined in. The bishops have been at the forefront of efforts to alter or overturn the contraception mandate, and are pursuing their own high-profile course of legal action and political lobbying. The Catholic hierarchy has also made it clear that it has problems with the mandate that go well beyond the exemption.

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