As part of President Obama’s health care reform, almost all employers will be required to provide their employees with health insurance that covers birth control free of charge.
That includes religiously-affiliated organizations, too.
The Obama administration announced it will provide these religious institutions with an extra year to meet the requirement, but will not completely exempt any institutions other than churches from the contraception requirement.
Some of those institutions, such as Catholic hospitals and religious universities, have requested an indefinite exemption to the requirement, arguing that they, like churches, object to the use of contraception and that requiring them to provide it violates their First Amendment rights.
The Center For Inquiry objects to the exemption:
… HHS has provided a one-year compliance exemption for religious hospitals, charities, and universities. This means that hundreds of thousands of women will be left without reproductive health coverage until August 2013 simply because of their employer’s religiously motivated objections. CFI sees no compelling reason why organizations with secular purposes ought to receive any exemption from the law.
No suit has been filed (yet), but if one of the hospitals or universities does file suit, I suspect they will rely at least in part on the recent Supreme Court decision preventing ministers from suing for employment discrimination. The two cases seem different, as one involves federal employment law and churches, and the other involves federal health care law and hospitals or universities. But at heart they both ask the same question: At what point has the federal government become too involved with the management of religiously-affiliated institutions?
My hunch is that this provision of the health care mandate will stand. The religious universities and hospitals won’t get preferential treatment, especially since both often employ many, many individuals who (I imagine) don’t subscribe to the institution’s religious message. And preventing a hospital or university from denying its employees free access to contraceptives does not present the same threat of government entanglement with religion as would allowing the courts to have a say in which ministers a church hired or fired.