President Donald Trump’s controversial religious freedom executive order left some critics scratching their heads earlier this month, with many pointing to the proclamation’s benign language to note that the text really didn’t accomplish all that much.
But flash-forward just a few weeks and it appears as though the White House is prepared to make good on one of Trump’s pledges to American faith communities: that he will protect religious institutions from the ever-contentious Obama-era contraceptive mandate.
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In fact, the government has reportedly drafted a rule to alleviate the contraceptive burden that the mandate placed on religious employers — a policy that has resulted in scores of lawsuits, as the New York Times reported.
The outlet noted that an “interim final rule” is currently under consideration by the White House Office of Management and Budget.
As Faithwire previously reported, Trump’s religious freedom order, which he signed on May 4, included language that directed government authorities to take “conscience-based objections” into account, specifically citing the “preventive-care mandate.”
“The Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate promulgated under section 300gg-13(a)(4) of title 42, United States Code,” the order read.
At the time, this language seemed strange to some, as the order did little to take definitive action on the contraceptive front, deferring actions to the aforementioned agencies. The more recent move, though, seems to indicate that action will soon be taken.
The most high-profile case to date surrounding the mandate was Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., which made its way to the Supreme Court, with the justices finding in a 5-4 opinion that it is a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to mandate that contraception be provided by closely held corporations such as craft store chain Hobby Lobby.
Hobby Lobby had argued that the required coverage of certain forms of birth control violated the owners’ religious conscience. Other groups, though, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, a congregation of Catholic nuns, have continued to push back against alternative options proposed by the Obama administration.
With that in mind, the Trump administration’s latest move is noteworthy due to the fact that a decision by the Justice Department back in April had some speculating that the government might not have plans to scrap the mandate after all, with some wondering whether officials will actually defend it, as the Obama administration had previously done.
The Justice Department asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit for another 60 days to negotiate with religious groups, including East Texas Baptist University, who are opposed to the mandate on moral grounds, the Washington Post reported.
Despite fears that this indicated plans to defend the regulation, the Post noted that the administration was possibly trying to buy more time while it assessed its options on the matter moving forward. Now, it appears this was likely the case.
While there’s uncertainty about what, exactly, the rule will say, any alleviation of the birth control mandate is sure to spark political and potential legal battles.
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