Several Oklahoma leaders of Christian nonprofits said they were “cautiously optimistic” about the new Health and Human Services mandate opt-out options proffered by the Obama administration on Friday.
However, they said they are troubled that the new options will not help for-profit businesses like Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby nor do the new choices address what they see as the government's trampling over their civil rights.
“This latest move by the administration shows the impact that citizens of faith are having,” the Rev. Anthony Jordan, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, said Friday.
“Therefore we should redouble our efforts toward the goal of a complete restoration of religious liberty and not be satisfied with its mere shadow.”
The convention — representing the state's Southern Baptists — had expressed concerns about the mandate through a resolution asking President Barack Obama to withdraw the mandate entirely.
The resolution was approved in November 2012 by delegates at the convention's annual meeting.
A representative of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City said the faith group's leaders had not had time to analyze the new options.
However, Patrick Raglow, executive director of Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City, said though he also had not read the “fine print” of the HHS amendment, he was pleased that concessions were being made for those organizations like his own that object to paying for contraception and abortion-inducing drugs for employees.
“The potential was we'd have to choose between not providing health care for our employees or providing health care for our employees that violates our tenets. It should have never happened in the first place,” Raglow said.
Loren Gresham, president of Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, said he was cautiously optimistic about the effect the new opt-out options will have on schools like SNU and other religious nonprofits. He said he remains concerned about Hobby Lobby's battle against the government-imposed mandate.
“For the nonprofits, at least initially, it sounds like it might help us a great deal, but we'll have to digest the fine print of it,” Gresham said.
Raglow, too, said he was troubled that businesses who have religious objections to the mandate must still comply with it.
For that reason, he, like Jordan, said the debate over the mandate is not yet finished.
“It (new options) does not exempt others who share the same concern,” Raglow said. “It does not eliminate the discussion in the public square.”
Meanwhile, the leaders' concerns about Hobby Lobby and other businesses who have strongly objected to the mandate were echoed in a statement made Friday by attorneys speaking for the craft retail chain.
The attorneys said the proposed rule will not affect Hobby Lobby Stores Inc.'s legal challenge to the mandate.
“Today's proposed rule does nothing to protect the religious freedom of millions of Americans. For instance, it does nothing to protect the rights of family businesses like Hobby Lobby,” Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said in a prepared statement.
The Becket Fund is representing Hobby Lobby in its court case now pending at the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“The administration obviously realizes that the HHS mandate puts constitutional rights at risk. There would have been an easy way to resolve this — expanding the exemption — but the proposed rule expressly rejects that option,” Duncan said.
The federal government contends that religious freedoms don't apply to the company, because it is a secular, for-profit corporation.
Hobby Lobby has said that it would rather incur hefty fines rather than provide insurance coverage for the contraceptive pills. Hobby Lobby's court case is now pending at the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.