NEW YORK —
Obama promised to change the birth control requirement so insurance companies and not faith-affiliated employers would pay for the coverage, but religious leaders said more changes were needed to make the plan work.
The Health and Human Services Department said it could not comment on litigation. A spokeswoman also did not respond to a question about when the latest revisions in the birth control rule would be made public.
However, government attorneys responding to a lawsuit said an announcement was expected by the end of March. In the suit filed by the evangelical Wheaton College in Illinois and Catholic Belmont Abbey in North Carolina, the court ordered government attorneys to provide a progress report on the new rule every 60 days. Whatever its final form, the mandate will take effect for religious groups in August.
At the center of the cases is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the 1993 law that bars the government from imposing a substantial burden on the exercise of religion for anything other than a compelling government interest pursued in the least restrictive way.
The question of how or whether these criteria apply when owners of for-profit businesses have a religious objection to a government policy hasn’t been fully tested.
“It’s more natural for people to say Notre Dame exercises religion, but when you say this power tool company exercises religion, you have to explain it little more, I think the claims are really the same,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents many of the plaintiffs.
Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, argued the business owners are trying to use a religious liberty claim to deny benefits to someone else.
“We don’t think that religious liberty claims can be used as a way to discriminate against women employees — using those claims to take away someone else’s benefits and services,” Amiri said.