Religious exemption in health care reform?

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On Saturday I mentioned that, amid the health care debate, there had been next-to no coverage of Christian health plans in which members receive no guarantee that their medical bills will get paid but take on faith that co-members will divide their expenses, just as they do each month for other co-members. It’s unclear if participants in this sharing plans will be exempted from the health care overhaul.

And in the comments, MZ raised an interesting related question:

There might be a connection between the two stories — the bill requires mandatory insurance coverage. And many religious groups — including my own denomination not that long ago — had religious objections to insurance. Is there a carve-out for them? Any other free exercise issues?

Haven’t seen any coverage of that.

Well, here’s some coverage. It comes not from The New York Times or Washington Post or any other media stalwart — unless you consider the Goshen News among the leaders in American journalism. The story is, in fact, a bit dated — try Aug. 29 — but has been resurrected online because no other outlets have yet addressed this question. (This doesn’t count.)

The Goshen News starts with a straightforward headline, “Health care reform and the Amish: What will it all mean?” and a lede that made me cringe:

With his long gray beard, plain clothes and lack of electricity, David Yoder of rural Middlebury hardly seems like someone who would know much about government issues.

But the rest of the article delivers, answering questions that other newspapers have left dangling out there. Turns out the House’s bill had a religious conscience clause that may exempt most Amish families. But that may not extend to younger Amish who have yet to officially join the church and likely wouldn’t exempt Amish-owned businesses.

Here’s what Third District Congressman Mark Souder told the paper’s Gary Kauffman:

Souder says there probably will be no compelling reason to give Amish business owners an exemption simply based on their faith.

“There probably will not be a way to exempt them any more than we can exempt Mennonites or others,” he said.

Souder said the Amish, along with other conservative groups, like Orthodox Jews, have been a topic of discussion already.

“The fundamental question is, ‘Is religious freedom trumped by a public health care program?’” he said. “There will be a religious liberty fight, but the Amish likely will be part of a bigger category than just themselves.”

See, was that really so hard? Now if only someone would update this story with the specifics from the bill President Obama signed into law this week.

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  • Scott Kammerer

    According to the Culpepper, VA Star-Exponent,

    in the midst of this sweeping new legislation is the “Religious Exemption,” Section 1501(b), which states: “The term ‘applicable individual’ … shall not include any individual for any month if such individual is a member of a health care sharing ministry for the month.”

    The bill then defines a “health care sharing ministry” to be any 501(c)(3) organization that has existed since at least 1999 whose members “share a common set of ethical or religious beliefs and share medical expenses among members in accordance with those beliefs.”

  • Scott Kammerer

    Oops, sorry for messing up the coding on that comment.

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    Fixed. Thanks, Scott. That was most helpful.

  • Jerry

    It’s not clear to me if the following is in the actual bill itself since the story predated that signing (the item was from Jan 10th) but I presume it is:

    Both the Senate and House bills use the old Social Security language (Sec. 1402(g)(1) of the tax code) to determine who will be eligible for a “religious conscience” objection to the insurance mandate. Specifically, the bills would provide exemptions for adherents of “recognized religious sects” that are “conscientiously opposed” to accepting benefits from any insurance — private or public — “which makes payments in the event of death, disability, old-age, or retirement or makes payments toward the cost of, or provides services for, medical care.” To qualify for the exemption, the sect would have to have been in existence continuously since Dec. 31, 1950.

  • Ann Rodgers

    I don’t know if Amish communities would meet the standard of a 501 (c) 3 community. They’re so opposed to government entanglement of any kind that they don’t vote, and they’ve long had exemption from Social Security. I doubt that any of them have sought 501 (c) 3 status.

    My own question is, did that photo come from the Goshen paper? The Amish don’t allow their photographs to be taken, and I can’t believe that the Goshen paper would have any kind of relationship with them if their photographers routinely violated that.

  • Citizen Wells

    If you gain any additional info or insights on Amish or religious exemptions, I would appreciate a heads up.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I heard that there is an Amish exemption on one of the talk shows (that the MSM loathes–especially when they cover stories the MSM wishes would go away). The gist of the talk was that there are religious exemptions in the bill and that giving such exemptions on a bill of this type (we’re not talking conscientious exemption from a bloody war)could well get it declared unconstitutional. The courts and our government certainly have been tyrranical toward Catholics when it comes to issues like Gay rights laws. How will the Amish eventually be treated? Remember, one battle cry for the bill was that everyone’s taxes and coerced participation is needed–even to huge fines for non-participants–to make it work.

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    That photo is from Getty Images, courtesy of

  • Tom Degan

    The commentators keep reminding us that Theodore Roosevelt was the first president who tried to bring universal health care to the American people. That’s not quite true. He never really expressed the idea while he was in office. In 1912 Roosevelt had been out of office for four years when he attempted to reclaim the presidency from William Howard Taft, the man he had picked to succeed him. Once in office, Taft began to dismantle most of the progressive reforms that Teddy had put into place. When he sought the nomination once again, his campaign slogan was “a square deal for every man and every woman in the United States.” Part of the “Square Deal” was health care for all. He arrived at the convention that summer with all the delegates he needed (and then some) to seize the mantle of standard bearer. It was not to be. His party would betray the people by giving the nomination to Taft in spite of his victory. They had had enough of Theodore Roosevelt and his progressive reforms. 1912 was the year that the progressive wing of the Republican party died. He was the last great Republican president – the very last.

    A generation later TR’s distant cousin Franklin attempted to pick up the torch of universal health care. In his 1944 State of the Union address, he told the American people that his major goal for the post war world was national health insurance. Unfortunately for you and I, FDR did not live to see the war’s end. A film of that speech can be viewed in Michael Moore’s film, Capitalism: A Love Story. It’s is now out on DVD and is essential viewing.

    The new health care bill is not perfect – far from it – but as the old Chinese saying goes, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” There will be improvements made on it down the years – there absolutely needs to be – but this is a fairly good first step. We’re on our way! The Conservatives will whine, but that’s what they do best. They’ll whine just as they whined when Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965, or the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Just as they whined when Harry Truman desegregated the army in 1947, or when Franklin D. Roosevelt brought Social Security into being in 1935. They’ll whine just like they did when Woodrow Wilson tried to form the League of Nations in 1919 – or when Abraham Lincoln ended the institution of slavery in 1863! They whine a lot. Did you ever notice that?

    Tom Degan

  • Fredösphere

    Tom, I believe that Chinese proverb you’re quoting actually goes, “the journey of many trillions of miles begins with the first 938 billion steps.”

  • Fredösphere

    Oh, and Tom, one more thing: do you know who really opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Here’s one tiny hint: it wasn’t the Republicans.

  • Amish

    Section 1501 is the correct section for Religious Exemptions. I work for one of the Old Order Mennonite / Amish health care sharing plans and we are a 501 (c) 12. Not a 501 (c) 3. We chose the c 12 over the c 3 designation because we don’t function as a charity and it would be dishonest to say we are a charity when we are not. We are a cooperative and cooperate among ourselves to meet our health care expenses. Many of the health care sharing plans are not registered with the IRS at all or are 501 (c) 12′s. Writing the law to allow only 501 (c) 3′s a religious exemption is in fact not allowing the Amish and Old Order Mennonites any exemption at all.

  • TexasMommy

    Tom, why do you discount Ronald Reagan as a great president? He was a Republican. Before you assume my affiliation, I consider myself an independent. I don’t vote for parties. I vote for candidates so I have liked some people from each party.

    I don’t think it’s fair to say that Republicans are the only ones who “whine.” In fact, whining seems to be more prevalent among Democrats. ;) As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t have chosen that word.

    You mention Woodrow Wilson and Abraham Lincoln. First of all, Mr. Lincoln was a Republican and his party was pushing for Emancipation. It was actually a war tactic, a way of adding “allies” in the freed slaves. It did not have the force of law. Second of all, Mr. Wilson did not singlehandedly form the League of Nations. He had a little help from his friends in Europe, however, he did not make friends in Congress. He behaved as though he were acting alone. That’s not how the government is supposed to work. The whole point of having the opposing parties is to make sure neither one has too much of an advantage over the other so that the majority of the citizens will somehow be served.

    In any case, this topic is religious exemption. I think there should be a lot of exemptions in this law. Otherwise, it simply isn’t fair. In fact, I think that every taxpayer who wants to should be allowed to opt out of it. That’s not whining. That’s just my opinion.

  • Xeno

    Of course, all this is a moot point.

    It doesn’t matter a tiny bit whether 501(3)(c) is the applicable definition.

    Because the religious exemption clause in the bill – Section 1501(d)(2)(a) refers to section 1401(g)(1) which does not actually exist in the bill.

    So, to all intents and purposes, there is no religious exemption.

  • Carlynann Johnson

    Tom: a misconception on your part, “when Abraham Lincoln ended the institution of slavery in 1863!” Lincoln did not “free” all the slaves-he only signed a proclamation that freed “some” slaves. Just keeping the record straight

  • uspatriotmd

    Lincoln was a Republican but once he got in he turned into a democrat. In fact he didnt care about the slaves,,,He used the slavery issue to seek sympathy for the cause. He is the forefather of BIG GOVERNMENT. He arrested members of congress on the house floor, he attacked American citizens who had followed the constitution in succeeding fr the union b/c the fed gov was imposing unfair tarifs upon the sounth but not the north. The constitution has built in a right to succession as a last ditch effort of protection 4 yr state…protection fr tyranny. The sounth followed all proper constitutional means to stop federal enchroachment. The fed gov attacked them and caused a civil war to enforce their tyranny. Why do you think they compared Obama to Lincoln? they knew what he was about to do,,,they knew hed start a civil war. They knew hed jail americans – the MSM KNEW WARS ARE NEVER FAUGHT FOR THE REASONS THEY TELL YOU…THEY LIE!!!

  • Joe Butterfly

    There are TWO religious exemptions in the bill. The Amish carve out discussed here. There is another one.
    See page 326 of the Bill:

    (A) RELIGIOUS CONSCIENCE EXEMPTION.—Such term shall not include any individual for any month if such individual has in effect an exemption under section 1311(d)(4)(H)
    of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which certifies that such individual is a member of a recognized religious sect or division thereof described in section 1402(g)(1) and an adherent of established tenets or teachings of such sect or division as described in such section.

    In human talk: This exemption shall not include persons exempted under the Amish carve out.

    The catch:

    They have not defined what that exemption will be. However, it will have to pass constitutional muster and it cannot be as restrictive as the Amish carve out.

    Massachucettes has a religious exemption that is much broader than the Amish carve out. They might use the Mass. bill as a model.

    You need to put pressure on your congress critter to get the exemption defined so that people can plan for it. And get the word out that the Amish are not the only group to get an exemption. It’s no accident that this second exemption is obscure and buried.

  • DJC


    Portion of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that prohibits discrimination by state government institutions. The clause grants all people “equal protection of the laws,” which means that the states must apply the law equally and cannot give preference to one person or class of persons over another.

    This legislation is so null and void!

  • John Uebersax

    How can the government presume to define what a “recognized religious sect” is (and why the infelicitous term ‘sect’ here)?

    ARTICLE 1. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

    If the government tries to stipulate what religious beliefs are ‘recognized’, it violates the Constitution.

    Later documents (e.g., the EU Human Rights Declaration) make it very clear that religious civil liberties extend to the individual person of conscience, and that no legal distinction exists between an individual religion and a ‘recognized’ one.

  • Jenna

    Concerning the Amish pictures….they are used to people taking snapshots of them all the time. Thier beliefs keep them from posing and deliberately taking photos for their own use and identification.

    Browsers and tourists are snapping pictures of the constantly. (yes I live in goshen)