During the Vice Presidential debate’s final 30 minutes, Joe Biden and Paul Ryan were asked to describe how their Catholic faith informed their public policy. As part of that exchange, the topic of the HHS contraception mandate arose, and Joe Biden insisted that the rule wouldn’t apply to any “Catholic institution — Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital,” and declared, “That is a fact. That is a fact.”
Paul Ryan responded during the debate to Biden’s claim with the simple question: “Why are they suing you, then?” On Friday, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops responded to both men with a statement explaining very clearly why dozens of Catholic institutions are suing to overturn the HHS mandate:
“This is not a fact,” said a statement issued by the U.S.C.C.B on Friday. “The HHS mandate contains a narrow, four-part exemption for certain ‘religious employers.’ That exemption was made final in February and does not extend to ‘Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital,’ or any other religious charity that offers its services to all, regardless of the faith of those served.
“HHS has proposed an additional ‘accommodation’ for religious organizations like these, which HHS itself describes as ‘non-exempt,’” said the U.S.C.C.B. “That proposal does not even potentially relieve these organizations from the obligation ‘to pay for contraception’ and ‘to be a vehicle to get contraception.’ They will have to serve as a vehicle, because they will still be forced to provide their employees with health coverage, and that coverage will still have to include sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients. They will have to pay for these things, because the premiums that the organizations (and their employees) are required to pay will still be applied, along with other funds, to cover the cost of these drugs and surgeries.”
This is one of the biggest bald-faced lies Joe Biden told during the debate. The Obama administration defined “religious organization” in its narrow exemption to the HHS mandate as places of worship — i.e., the churches themselves — or organizations that only employ and serve people of the same religious affiliation. Catholic hospitals, schools, and charities both employ and serve people of all religious affiliations, or none at all, as do many other faith-based organizations that serve our communities. They do this as an expression of their faith — acts of mercy and charity that their religious principles demand of them. However, under the Obama definition of religious expression, that no longer qualifies as legitimate religious expression under the First Amendment, and makes all of them ineligible for the extremely narrow religious exemption of the HHS mandate.
It’s not possible that Biden has remained ignorant of this point. The USCCB and other religious denominations have made this point loudly, repeatedly, and have now filed a blizzard of lawsuits to stop the federal government from its attempt to define and severely limit the definition of religious expression. Biden has been personally challenged on this point many times, and refuses to acknowledge that the so-called “accommodation” did nothing to change that limitation of the freedom of religious expression. Biden knows well what the issues are, and what the mandate actually does to the organizations he named in this statement. He just chose to lie about it.