O.U. formally comments on Obama contraceptive coverage rules

The Orthodox Union formally commented on pending Obama administration regulations mandating employer-sponsored health plans for contraceptives and sterilization.

The comments filed Monday with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services express concerns over the regulations’ exemption of houses of worship, but not other religious entities like schools, hospitals and social welfare program providers.

“If the First Amendment’s pair of clauses guaranteeing the right of ‘free exercise’ and prohibiting ‘establishment’ of religion stand for anything, they stand for the protection of citizens against government compulsion to act contrary to conscience and for prohibiting government officials from parceling out religious protection subjectively,” the comments stated.

In a press release, O.U. executive director for public policy Nathan Diament stated the “deepest concern” is “the notion that the federal government will create two tiers of religious organizations with each receiving different apportionments of religious liberty protection. “

“We fully appreciate that on this issue, President Obama is trying to delicately balance competing concerns, and that he recognizes the importance of religious liberty and further recognizes the crucial role religious institutions play in American society,” Diament said. “But we respectfully disagree with how the President and the Secretary of HHS have decided to strike the balance.  We hope he will change the policy.”

The Orthodox Union raised the matter in a meeting with President Obama on June 5. In that meeting, they made clear that the Orthodox Jewish objection was not to contraceptives coverage, but to government interference in the management of institutions owned by religious groups.

The federal government opens proposed regulations to commentary for a period through publication the Federal Register.