Faith Groups: “No Progress” on Talks with Administration

Weekly summary of world news

Norm Olson March 20, 2012




The White House is currently in talks with various faith groups about the administration’s mandate requiring employers to provide health coverage that includes contraception, sterilization, and some abortion-inducing drugs. Some of these faith groups have said, in public statements and in communications with The Christian Post, that no progress has been made toward an acceptable accommodation. World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization, said in an e-mail to The Christian Post that they have not made any headway. Those who are helped by World Vision are not required to be, or become, Christians in order to receive assistance. Because of this, World Vision does not qualify for an exemption to the mandate. “We hope that the Administration will shift course and self-correct to affirm and clarify existing religious freedom as protected by the First Amendment and subsequent Supreme Court rulings, as well as religious hiring protections articulated in the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” said Kent R. Hill, senior vice president for World Vision’s International Program Group. Stanley Carlson-Thies, president of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, also sees little effort on the part of the Obama administration to work toward a new solution. “Officials say they are working hard to develop a genuine solution for non-exempt religious employers that reject having to include contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs, in their health plans. Yet there is no sign that the administration is willing to abandon its flawed framework,” he wrote. President Obama announced a proposed accommodation on Feb. 10. Religious institutions with objections to the birth control mandate would not have to pay for insurance that covers contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, but insurance companies would have to provide the coverage at no additional cost to any of their employees that request it. Many of the faith groups have pointed out, though, that Obama’s Feb. 10 speech has not even been put into effect with an executive order. Indeed, only five days later, Health and Human Services put the original executive order into effect and wrote in the summary that the regulation will go into effect “without change.” Besides the fact that Obama’s Feb. 10 press conference did not carry the force of law and the regulation went into effect without Obama’s proposed revisions anyway, many faith groups are objecting to the proposal even if it were to become part of the birth control mandate. A second issue raised with the White House is the status of religious institutions that self-insure. Even if Obama’s proposed revision were to be codified in the law, religious organizations that self-insure would essentially be the insurance company required to provide birth control services. A group of about 40 Catholic bishops are gathering in Washington, D.C., this week to meet with the White House. They issued a five-page statement last Wednesday arguing that the birth control mandate is a violation of religious freedom.

Other news:

  • While the federal government and churches wrestle over healthcare-required contraception and abortions, city and county governments may have found a unique method of backdoor taxation on nonprofits, reports WorldNetDaily. They simply double the water bill for churches and schools. That’s the focus of a court case that churches and nonprofits across the nation are carefully watching. Soon an Oregon judge will decide whether to allow the practice. One of the 600-plus ordinances for the city of Canyonville, Ore., states that “churches, schools, and non-profits like our local YMCA and a non-profit senior residence will be charged double the normal water rates and substantially elevated sewage fees.” One of the current ordinances explains that the surcharges are to be paid “in lieu of taxes.” Meanwhile, a sign posted in city hall tells Canyonville residents that they pay less on their water bills than neighboring towns. The nonprofits, who are paying double, say that their surcharge is the reason. Among those affected is Canyonville Christian Academy, founded in 1924. Officials there stumbled onto the double billing, finding that the extra surcharges date back three decades and may total close to $200,000, according to school officials. Said the school headmaster, Cathy Lovato, “We offered to settle this for a very modest amount last Christmas but the city said no.” Although the ordinances are written to cover all nonprofit water users, CCA believes that the city regulations have principally targeted 10 churches and four Christian schools, with the biggest bill going to Canyonville Christian Academy.
  • Bill Maher on Friday attacked Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, Christians, and anyone who homeschools their children. In his final New Rule on HBO’s Real Time, Maher said, “Rick Santorum homeschools his children because he does not want them eating [from the Tree of Knowledge]. He wants them locked up in the Christian madrassa that is the family living room, not out in public where they could be infected by the virus of reason.” Responded Noel Sheppard in newsbusters.org, “It’s of course not at all surprising that besides his anti-religious bigotry, Maher believes homeschoolers receive less of an education than those in public schools. Nothing can be further from the truth. The 2009 Homeschool Progress Report found ‘homeschoolers scored 34–39 percentile points higher than the norm on standardized achievement tests. The homeschool national average ranged from the 84th percentile for Language, Math, and Social Studies to the 89th percentile for Reading.’ The average is 50. Homeschoolers also score higher on the popular college entrance exam ACT.”
  • The points have been tallied and the scores are in. The Open Doors USA Congressional Scorecard for International Religious Freedom of the 112th session of Congress was just released, ranking U.S. congressmen and senators on their promotion of religious freedom, reports Mission Network News. Why assign a point value to a legislator’s record on issues regarding international religious freedom? Lindsay Vessey with Open Doors has spent six years on Capitol Hill talking to various legislators, and she says one idea has become quite clear: “Nearly everyone says that they care about religious freedom. But when it comes to actually taking action to help people who are being persecuted for their faith, we find that a lot of legislators weren’t willing to take action.” Vessey explains, “The Scorecard is a tool that Open Doors created, mostly to create awareness and accountability regarding international religious freedom with our federal legislators.” Essentially, the Scorecard is a way to keep tabs on legislators’ voting records on religious freedom legislation. Legislators are graded on their votes and cosponsorship of a selection of the most important religious freedom bills and resolutions that seek to protect Christians and other persecuted faith groups worldwide. After the first Scorecard was released in the 111th session of Congress, the response of U.S. citizens caused a reaction. And seeing their support of religious freedom in tangible numbers made legislators think about their actions.
  • As members of his community watched quietly in court, an Ohio man admitted Thursday that he defrauded fellow Amish in 29 states out of almost $17 million, reports coshoctontribune.com. Monroe L. Beachy, 77, of Sugarcreek, changed his plea to guilty in U.S. District Court before Judge Benita Pearson. She ordered a pre-sentence report and scheduled sentencing for May 24. A one-count mail fraud indictment returned in 2011 charged Beachy with promising investors safe securities but moving money to riskier investments. The indictment said almost 2,700 people and entities, including an Amish community loan fund, lost about $16.8 million since 2006. Beachy’s company has filed for bankruptcy protection. The charge carries a maximum 20-year sentence, but under federal sentencing guidelines, he is likely to face 12 to 15 years. According to The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, a dozen members of the Amish community watched the proceedings but declined to comment.
  • President Obama hasn’t gotten far among Republican voters in Alabama and Mississippi, as far as to whether or not he is a Muslim is concerned, reports latimes.com. About half still believe he is Muslim and about one in four believes his parents’ interracial marriage should have been illegal, a new poll shows. The automated survey by Public Policy Polling, conducted in conjunction with the recent primaries, finds continued skepticism among Republicans about Obama’s religion and that a substantial number of GOP voters continue to believe interracial marriage should be illegal. The poll of Mississippi Republicans found that 52 percent said they believe Obama is a Muslim, 36 percent aren’t sure, and only 12 percent said they believe he is a Christian. He fared slightly better in Alabama, where 45 percent said he is a Muslim, 41 percent aren’t sure, and 14 percent said they believe he is a Christian.
  • Republicans launched a preemptive strike last week against rumored plans by the White House to tap the country’s emergency oil reserves, reports cowboybyte.com. Releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a 696-million-barrel stockpile stored on the Gulf Coast, is a ploy to score political points amid gas prices that are nearing a national average of $4 per gallon, Republicans argued. “The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is for emergencies—not political disasters,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said in a statement Thursday. “Instead of manipulating the SPR, the White House should approve the Keystone XL pipeline, increase domestic energy exploration, cut red tape, and stop the EPA from shutting down American refineries.” Cowboybyte.com also says that the fate of Obama’s health care overhaul rests with four Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices. The law could be struck down if they stand together with Justice Clarence Thomas, another GOP appointee who is the likeliest vote against. The good news for Obama is that he probably needs only one of the four to side with him to win approval of the law’s crucial centerpiece—the requirement that almost everyone has insurance or pays a penalty. Lawyers with opposing views of the issue uniformly agree that the four Democratic-appointed justices will have no trouble concluding that Congress did not overstep its authority in adopting the insurance requirement that is aimed at sharply reducing the now 50 million people without insurance.
  • Farmers and ranchers, like others across the nation, aren’t looking forward to possible changes of child labor laws, which they believe could heavily impact the culture of agriculture in the United States, reports cowboybyte.com. And growing debate has sparked a standoff between rural and urban, with rural parties believing changes attack that lifestyle. The U.S. Department of Labor proposed changes to the law last fall, which would be the first since the law was created more than 40 years ago. The problem farming groups and individual farmers have with the changes is not an increased focus on child safety, but that the new rules would affect children’s ability to earn money, work for their families, and learn life lessons while training to work in agriculture. “This is more of an assault on my culture than anything that’s going to solve a problem,” said rancher and father or four Jeff Young. “I just can’t imagine that riding a horse that’s following a herd of cattle is any more dangerous than skiing or playing football.”
  • A former Planned Parenthood clinic director has filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against her former employer, Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas (now known as Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast), charging that between 2007 and 2009 the abortion provider filed fraudulent Medicaid claims totaling nearly $6 million, reports thenewamerican.com. Abby Johnson, now an outspoken pro-life advocate, filed the federal lawsuit through Alliance Defense Fund, accusing Planned Parenthood of submitting more than 87,000 “false, fraudulent, or ineligible claims for Medicaid reimbursements” under Title XIX, in association with the Texas Women’s Health Program. The lawsuit alleges that the abortion provider knowingly committed Medicaid fraud by “improperly seeking reimbursements” from the WHP “for products and services not reimbursable by that program.” According to the suit, some 40 percent of the claims submitted by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast to the Texas WHP were “false, fraudulent, and/or ineligible for reimbursement,” for which the abortion provider received reimbursements totaling more than $5.7 million. ADF attorneys filed the suit under the Texas Medicaid Fraud Prevention Act, which allows individuals with inside information to expose fraud by contractors that receive government monies. While the suit was filed in 2010, federal law mandated that documents pertaining to the case remain sealed while federal and state governments decided whether or not to join the case. In 2011, Texas effectively banned Planned Parenthood from participating in the Texas WHP under a state law mandating that the state’s Medicaid agency cannot contract with “affiliates of entities that perform or promote elective abortions.” That law prompted the Obama administration to retaliate by stripping the WHP of its federal funding.