By Michelle Boorstein
Well, President Obama’s faith outreach team says they welcome disparate viewpoints.
A group of faith leaders, including five from the president’s own hand-picked faith advisory group, just released a signed document calling for the Obama Administration to be much more specific about what kind of exemptions religious health care workers should be entitled to when it comes to tasks they morally oppose.
The document, signed by a small but ideologically diverse group, comes about six weeks after the White House started the process of rescinding the so-called “conscience clause” regulation put in place last year by the Bush Administration. That regulation cut off federal funding for thousands of state and local governments, hospitals, health plans, clinics and other entities if they do not accommodate workers’ moral or religious beliefs.
The Obama White House announced its plan to rescind the Bush regulation, but didn’t say what it would be replaced with, if anything. Now this group of eight yesterday released comments calling for the White House to be not only more specific but to reaffirm its commitment to decades-old federal laws meant to offer some “conscience” protections.
The document is part of a surge of feedback sent to the Department of Health and Human Services as a 30-day comment period comes to an end.
Signers include five members of the advisory council to the White House’s Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Initiatives: Nathan Diament of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; Rev. Joel Hunter; Wake Forest Divinity School Director Melissa Rogers; Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners.
The group spans the spectrum politically but includes mostly religious traditionalists.
Those who opposed the Bush regulation to begin with would say existing federal laws already create protections for people opposed to abortion and sterilization. But this document says federal law hasn’t gone far enough to protect religious workers. It also notes that the Bush Administration regulation never defined “abortion,” leaving it unclear whether the term includes dispensing birth control pills or Plan B contraception, among other services.
Also signing the document were Catholic law professor Douglas Kmiec, Southern Baptist Convention lobbyist Richard Land and Washington and Lee law professor Robin Fretwell Wilson.