WH: We're confident we know more about religious fidelity than a bunch of nuns, or something

It didn’t take long for the Obama administration to respond publicly to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s temporary injunction against HHS for enforcement of the contraceptive-coverage mandate. Expressing confidence in their position, the White House insisted that their “compromise” for religious organizations satisfied any risk to conscience objections:

“We defer to the Department of Justice on litigation matters, but remain confident that our final rules strike the balance of providing women with free contraceptive coverage while preventing non-profit religious employers with religious objections to contraceptive coverage from having to contract, arrange, pay, or refer for such coverage,” a White House official said. …

“There is no statutory authority to regulate the third-party administrator of a self-insured church plan and no legal compulsion for that administrator to provide contraceptive coverage where an eligible organization with a self-insured church plan invokes the accommodation, ” the government lawyers argued in an earlier Circuit Court brief.

But there’s the rub. The act of self-certifying essentially facilitates the extension of insurance coverage of contraception to the employees of religious organizations, which means that they end up being the conveyance vehicle of the benefits whether they directly pay for it or not.  In real terms, the organizations will end up carrying the costs of their group risk pool, because premiums will cover the provider costs imposed on the insurers. That’s true whether insurers impose a surcharge for that coverage or not, and that’s also true for insurers in all other contexts, too.  The White House argues that the “preventive” nature of contraception will save insurers in the long run from the costs of the illness of pregnancy, but that’s based on specious long-term calculations that have no impact on year-to-year cost balancing necessary in risk pools anyway.

All this “compromise” does is to offer a transparent sleight-of-hand to give religious organizations some political cover to claim that they are acting within their religious beliefs when they clearly are not.  It should surprise no one that these religious organizations aren’t interested in lying to themselves or other Christians about the nature of this arrangement, even if the White House suffers from the belief that no one takes their prohibitions seriously.

The White House will need to argue in court that they know better how to be faithful to the tenets of Christianity than a bunch of nuns. And, for that matter, a bunch of priests, too:

In a huge victory for Priests for Life, a pro-life organization, a federal appeals court has issued a ruling saying it doesn’t have to pay massive fines to the federal government for not obeying the HHS mandate, which forces religious groups and companies to pay for birth control or abortion-causing drugs for their employees.

An emergency injunction granted late this afternoon in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit means that Priests for Life will not have to obey the contraception mandate contained in the Affordable Care Act as its appeal is being heard. It also means that, tomorrow, Priests for Life will not have to cancel health insurance for its employees.

This absurd mandate will probably founder on the fact that the federal government has imposed an unreasonable restriction on religious expression in service to an end that could easily have been achieved through less-restrictive means — for example, free contraception from the government through expansion of Title IX benefits. This will hopefully be one of the more absurd sideshows in the eventual Supreme Court action this year.