MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

February 2, 2013

Cautious optimism in Oklahoma on new health mandate

— OKLAHOMA CITY — Several Oklahoma leaders of Christian nonprofits said they were "cautiously optimistic" about a work-around the Obama administration proposed Friday for religious nonprofits that object to providing health insurance that covers birth control.

However, they said they are troubled that the new options will not help for-profit businesses like the Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby or address what they see as the government's trampling on their civil rights, The Oklahoman and Tulsa World report.

"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."

Leaders of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City had not yet analyzed the new options, a representative of the faith group said.

But Patrick Raglow, executive director of Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City, said although he had not read the "fine print" of the Health and Human Services amendment, he was pleased concessions are being made for organizations such as his 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 added that it also troubled him that businesses who have religious objections to the mandate must still comply with it.

Hobby Lobby was disappointed with the proposal as well, said Kyle Duncan, one of the attorneys representing Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. in its federal court challenge of Affordable Care Act requirements.

"We remain committed to protecting religious liberty until the administration recognizes the conscience rights of all Americans," Duncan said.

The proposed rule will not affect Hobby Lobby's legal challenge to the mandate, company attorneys say. Hobby Lobby has said it would rather incur hefty fines than provide insurance coverage for contraceptive pills.

The federal government contends that religious freedoms don't apply to the company, because it is a secular, for-profit corporation.

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