President Obama Reopens Rift with Religious Groups Over Birth Control Mandate Change

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President Barack Obama wasn't looking for another fight with religious groups when the administration attempted Friday to clarify its birth control mandate.

But he got one anyway.

The change was meant to help quell a wave of lawsuits by providing guidance on which employers are exempt and how exactly they would meet the mandate without violating their conscience, according to close observers of the process.

To leaders of some religious and conservative groups challenging the policy, though, it was the latest example of an administration that's struggled to relate to them just not getting it.

The Faith & Freedom Coalition called it "window dressing and more of the same." The Catholic Association tagged it "just another accounting gimmick." The Judicial Crisis Network described it as "no solution at all."

"Today's proposed rule does nothing to protect the religious freedom of millions of Americans," said Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has helped employers bring lawsuits against the administration. "There would have been an easy way to resolve this -- expanding the exemption -- but the proposed rule expressly rejects that option."

Two of the most influential groups -- the Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Health Association -- have yet to weigh in.

But the critical response from many groups beyond those two organizations highlighted the deep divide between Obama and the religious right -- a rift exacerbated by the contraception mandate and the year of election-year politicking that it spawned. At issue: whether institutions - or even business owners -- with moral objections to birth control would be forced to offer health insurance policies that cover contraceptives free of charge.

A senior administration official said the White House didn't expect to suddenly assuage leaders of the religious community. The proposed new rules -- which included broadening the definition of which institutions were exempt -- were aimed more at strengthening the administration's hand in court than winning over the Catholic and other religious groups that objected to the Obamacare provision, the official said.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said the administration tried to balance religious liberty with the ability for women to access affordable birth control, and that principle guided the president's latest attempt at compromise.

"The criteria that he made clear were important to him as these rules were put in place, which is that we need to provide preventative services -- access to preventative services for all women, and that includes contraception," Carney said. "And we also needed to respect religious beliefs, and that is the balance the president made clear he wanted to be kept in mind as these rules were proposed and developed."

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SOURCE: Politico
Carrie Budoff Brown
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