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U.S. bishops submit comments on revised HHS mandate accommodation

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops today submitted comments on the revised HHS mandate accommodation issued on Aug. 22, noting the interim final rules do not change the mandate itself, or its extremely narrow exemption offered to churches but not service and other religious organizations.

The U.S. bishops had initially given the revised HHS mandate accommodation a thumbs down, but took the opportunity to submit formal comments crafted by USCCB general counsel Anthony Picarello and associate general counsel Michael Moses.

Picarello and Moses wrote “the mandate continues to substantially burden the religious liberty of stakeholders with religious objections to the mandated coverage. Because it does not further a compelling government interest by the means least restrictive of religious exercise, the mandate continues to violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

They also noted that “religious organizations that fall on the non-exempt side of the religious gerrymander include those which contribute most visibly to the common good through the provision of health, educational, and social services."

Picarello and Moses further noted the mandate still requires religious-based emloyers to provide the objectionable services, albeit through a third party, by writing a letter to Health and Human Services stating their objection.

The full comments may be found here.

The federal government on Aug. 22 also invited comments on proposed rules issued on the heels of the Hobby Lobby ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on how for-profit, closely held corporations that object to the HHS mandate on religious grounds could use the accommodation provided to nonprofit religious employers.

Picarello and Moses also submitted comments on those proposed rules, noting they actually “make the current situation worse for closely-held for-profit organizations with religious objections to contraceptive coverage,” as such organizations are currently exempt under RFRA, as the U.S. Supreme Court held.

Those comments may be found here.