Obama obfuscates on church regulation

Advocates for religious freedom slammed the White House’s latest effort to expand federal control over the religious sector.

“This is a shell game… it is an accounting gimmick,” because progressives “are losing on this issue” politically, said Hannah Smith, senior counsel at the Becket Fund, a civil liberties law firm.

The Department of Health and Human Services released a 32-page notice late on Friday sketching several ways in which employees of religious groups that insure their own members would be provided free birth control services, in the face of opposition by those religious groups.

The new document, dubbed a notice of proposed rule-making, also escalates the controversy by pressuring the nation’s many colleges and universities to arrange free birth control services for their youthful students.

However, the document also highlighted the president’s underestimation of the political push-back caused by his Jan. 20 regulation of religious groups, said Smith.

For example, the notice says the government will invite two rounds of comments from the public, likely delaying enforcement of the most controversial parts of the regulation past November.

The notice “is a political last-gasp as they prepare for what inevitably is going to be a very ugly political fight over this because there’s no legitimate reason for them to do this other than to attack religious liberty,” said Brian Burch, president of Catholic Vote.

A broad coalition of roughly 15 conservative and religious groups has already formed to oppose the religious regulation, he said.

The regulation is part of a broader effort by Obama and allied progressives to attack America’s network of civil society organizations — such as churches, charities, companies, clubs or neighborhood doctors — who resist federal powers, he said.

The progressives’ goal is to “destroy the intermediary institutions… [until] nothing is left but the individual and the state, which make the state much more powerful and the individual much more dependent on the state,” he said.

For example, he said, the 2010 health care reform law is forcing the nation’s variety of neighborhood doctors to join large medical conglomerates that are easily regulated by the federal government, he said.