The White House released new proposals on March 16 in an effort to answer ongoing concerns about the religious exemptions to the administration's contraceptive mandate. Some religious leaders greeted them unenthusiastically as "a series of ideas." The basic premise of the mandate remains unchanged: Employees of all religious organizations outside of churches must be allowed to receive free contraceptives from their insurers.
In the new proposals the administration suggested that third-party administrators work out contraceptive coverage for self-insured religious groups-a major point of controversy. The proposals acknowledge that free contraceptives don't appear out of thin air, and suggested a variety of funding ideas if religious organizations won't pay for them. The proposed rule also allows church schools, if they are under the same insurance plan as their churches, to be exempt from the mandate.
Religious groups, like the Protestant Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), are still troubled by the administration's creation of two classes of religious organizations in the exemption: churches that are exempted and other religious groups that are subject to the complex "accommodation" in the proposed rules. That "puts the federal government in the position of determining the sincerity of the religious commitment of various groups," wrote CCCU president Paul Corts in a recent letter to the White House.
Meanwhile, the first businessman filed a lawsuit against the mandate, adding his voice to the chorus of religious groups and universities that have taken legal action. The suit filed on behalf of Frank O'Brien Jr., a Catholic businessman in St. Louis, Mo., said the mandate would force O'Brien to violate his religious beliefs by paying for contraceptives and abortifacients for his employees. The administration's religious exemption proposals do not address individual employers with religious objections.