Earlier this month, 120 college presidents from around the nation, primarily from Protestant schools, met in Washington D.C. for an annual meeting sponsored by the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, The council represents 136 U.S. schools as well as greater than 400,000 students.
During the conference the council focused on a pressing topic: How to deal with President Obama's proposed mandate requiring religious employers to provide health insurance that offers free contraception, which would be contrary to many of their religious beliefs, according to an article on Yahoo News.
Furthermore, 25 presidents held a separate policy meeting to discuss the mandate that was established when Congress passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010 and was later upheld this year by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
The mandate, later softened by the Obama administration, would have required non-church religious institutions such as schools and hospitals to offer health insurance plans that include free access to contraceptives and abortifacient drugs. Many of these Presidents made trips to the offices of their representatives to urge them to fight against the decision.
Although, most of the news coverage of the fight over the contraception mandate focused on the opposition from the Catholic Church, employers affiliated with Protestant denominations, especially religious colleges who offer insurance plans to students, were also engaged in an equally fierce battle over contraception.
In fact, more than 60 Christian-based groups sent a letter to President Obama in December asking him to exempt them from the mandate. In addition, the council's president, Paul Corts, sent 2 letters to the administration pleading with them to reconsider.
After receiving the letters as well as other complaints from school's concerned that they would not be able to provide health insurance to their students if they were forced to provide free contraception, president Obama somewhat acquiesced and amended the mandate. Now the insurance companies, not religious institutions, will be forced to pay for the free contraception afforded to those employed by the religious institutions.
Yet, this mandate does not definitively resolve the question as to whether the religious exemption will encompass religious schools and their student plans or whether the exemption will eliminate all of the potential conscience violations the bill could still pose to these schools.
The Obama administration is still considering how to apply the health care law's mandate to religious groups. As a result, several Protestant college presidents sent letters to their local representatives who posted them on Regulations.gov, a government website that gathers public comments on statutes before they officially go into effect.
The schools believe that since churches are exempt that they should be too because they run on the same faith-based principles.
Furthermore, other religious schools have decided to revoke insurance to uncovered students. One of those schools is Colorado Christian University who has also filed a lawsuit opposing the mandate. One of its officials stated, "[t]his plan will not be offered in the future if it must be compliant with the administration's mandate thereby forcing American citizens to either compromise their beliefs or go without."
Considering the uncertainty that the religious exemption presently poses it is likely that we will be hearing considerable debate surrounding the scope of its applicability in the near future. If it turns out that these schools are not exempted chances are that there will be a multitude of lawsuits filed as well as more schools deciding to revoke school provided student health insurance plans.
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