Movement on the HHS Mandate? First Document! First Reactions! UPDATED

I was hearing rumors last night that the Obama administration may be walking back the more onerous, obnoxious and probably-unconstitutional tenets of Obamacare’s HHS Mandate, which rides roughshod over the first amendment rights to the free exercise of religion and contradicts Obama’s own words about the sacredness of a conscience.

Here’s the first suggestions that something will come today (scroll down):

*** White House to announce contraception rule? We are hearing that the Obama White House is telling abortion-rights and family-planning organizations that the administration’s revised contraception rule — pertaining to the health-care law and religious-affiliated employers — could be announced as early as today. So keep an eye out for this. It’s our understand this new revised rule will make it a little easier for religious organizations to qualify for the exemption on providing contraception. But we also understand that key women’s groups have signed off on this change. More to come later today.

This CNN piece is rather garbled and unclear.. We’ll have to wait and see.

::::::UPDATE:::::This fact sheet came down as I was writing:

Exemption for Religious Employers

Group health plans of “religious employers” are exempted from having to provide contraceptive coverage, if they have religious objections to contraception.

Today’s NPRM would simplify the existing definition of a “religious employer” as it relates to contraceptive coverage.

The NPRM would eliminate criteria that a religious employer:

have the inculcation of religious values as its purpose;
primarily employ persons who share its religious tenets; and
primarily serve persons who share its religious tenets.
The simple definition of “religious employer” for purposes of the exemption would follow a section of the Internal Revenue Code, and would primarily include churches, other houses of worship, and their affiliated organizations, as defined by Section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) or (iii)

This proposed change is intended to clarify that a house of worship would not be excluded from the exemption because, for example, it provides charitable social services to persons of different religious faiths or employs persons of different religious faiths. The Departments believe that this proposal would not expand the universe of employer plans that would qualify for the exemption beyond that which was intended in the 2012 final rules.

Creating Accommodations for Non Profit Religious Organizations

Consistent with the Advance NPRM, the NPRM proposes accommodations for additional non profit religious organizations, while also separately providing enrollees contraceptive coverage with no co-pays. An eligible organization would be defined as an organization that:

opposes providing coverage for some or all of any contraceptive services required to be covered under Section 2713 of the PHS Act, on account of religious objections;
is organized and operates as a nonprofit entity;
holds itself out as a religious organization; and
self-certifies that it meets these criteria and specifies the contraceptive services for which it objects to providing coverage.

Under the proposed accommodations, the eligible organizations would not have to contract, arrange, pay or refer for any contraceptive coverage to which they object on religious grounds.

::::END UPDATE:::

So, no exemption for business like Hobby Lobby.

The USCCB’s first response is wise: they’re happy to study this. Dolan has good reason to hedge his remarks; he believed Obama once, and got burned.

In the face of over 40 lawsuits brought against the Mandate by various Catholic entities — including by the Obama-friendly University of Notre Dame — the resistance by Hobby Lobby and other businesses bringing suit, and (perhaps) by the public declaration by bishops that they would go to jail rather than obey the mandate, the administration is showing some sense in reconsidering the law’s sweeping breadth. The most progressive (and least church-loving) of Obama’s base might have applauded the mandate, but most sane people understand that infringing on the constitutional rights of one group sets a dangerous precedent for tramping on other fundamental rights, in turn.

So, we’ll see. Then we’ll know. Stay tuned and head back here, because today is going to be a big news day. Between the death of Ed Koch, the Menendez story, the ongoing media gush as Hillary Clinton leaves the State Department and of course, the but HUGE story on Archbishop Gomez’ restriction of Cardinal Mahony, it’s going to be busy, busy, busy. Go read Rocco Palmo for the Mahony story — he has a great piece up, and also Deacon Greg.

UPDATE:
The Washington Post is
out the gate and spinning this as a great protection of religious freedom but note, as I said, the consciences of for-profit business owners are not exempted. [Little Update: I wish I’d screencapped that WaPo peice, as it has been edited since I linked]

I’m seeing more spin from some of the MSM journalists on twitter. They’re quoting Catholics United as saying this is “a victory”, but Catholics United initially dissed the Bishops for resisting the mandate, so take that for what it’s worth.

Like me, Rebecca Hamilton is feeling a little wary and writes I’ll wait to hear what Obama says he’s going to do. Then I’ll wait to see what he actually does. And golly, she’s a Democrat! :-)

UPDATE II:
Follow this twitter feed by attorney Gabriel Malor
as he reads the original mandate and this new info as it comes out. He is not impressed, and he’s all over this story: “So you won’t have to be a monastic order to qualify for the HHS exemption any more, but no help for private employers.”

UPDATE III:
Matthew Schmitz at First Things:

The Obama administration believes that conscientious objections to contraception should prevail in the non-profit sector, but not in for-profit corporations. Why? Do employees of non-profits need contraception less? Do the conscience claims of their leaders matter more? Why are tax-exempt organizations granted more rights than those which pay taxes?

Hoftra University’s Ronald J. Colombo spoke to First Things about the administration’s new regulations: “The distinction between non-profit and for-profit is a convenient rule of thumb, but when it comes to constitutional matters such as freedom of religion it’s not appropriate.”

“There are for-profit corporations that are much more religious than non-profits,” he said.
[…]
There are other possible issues with this proposed accommodation.

So, yeah, read it all.

And Frank Weathers has more on the Mandate, and the press release from HHS. He writes:

in a nutshell. Religious non-profits are the only organizations that these proposed rules will apply to.

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