OBAMACARE: Catholic institution denied religious exemption

A federal appeals court has denied Notre Dame’s request for an exemption from the Obamacare mandate, which requires the Catholic university to provide contraceptives – some of which may be abortifacients – to its employees.

In the two-to-one ruling last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit denied any religious exemption for the university. Religious organizations have doggedly protested the Health and Human Services mandate, part of Obamacare’s Affordable Care Act, in courts across the country. This recent ruling has been seen as a huge blow to those efforts.

“This marked the first time that a federal appeals court had rejected a claim that the Supreme Court’s ruling last June in the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores should shield a non-profit religious organization from any role whatsoever in carrying out the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate,” Lyle Denniston of SCOTUS blog wrote.

The ruling has frustrated Notre Dame alumni and others who see it as an infringement on strongly held religious beliefs.

“The 7th Circuit majority was just plain wrong in its application of  Hobby Lobby,” William Dempsey, chairman of the alumnus Sycamore Trust donor group, told The College Fix in a telephone interview.

“The Supreme Court said courts have to accept a plaintiff’s sincere claim of conscience, though the plaintiff could still lose if the public interest demanded it, but the court of appeals simply said to Notre Dame in effect, ‘You may feel that way but you shouldn’t,’” Dempsey said. “Still, the Supreme Court may not take this or any other case for review until some court of appeals rules against the government. So far, none have.” NotreDame2.KateHardiman

The Obamacare mandate requires all employer health plans to provide free contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortion-inducing drugs. The mandate provides an extremely narrow exemption for “religious employers,” which fails to cover most faith-based organizations including Catholic hospitals, universities, and service organizations.

To meet the exemption qualifications, religious employers must hire and serve exclusively people of their own faith, qualify as a church or religious order as defined by the tax code, and exist for the purpose of inculcating religious doctrine. With that, religious universities and business owners have had limited successes with their legal challenges.

Last June, the Supreme Court issued a major ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby on the contraception mandate, stating that the federal regulation cannot be applied to “closely held corporations” if their owners object on religious grounds. Following this case, the court of appeals reconsidered Notre Dame’s plea for exemption, after the trial court denied Notre Dame’s request that the Obamacare mandate requirement be suspended pending the trial.

In his dissenting opinion, Circuit Judge Joel Flaum stated that “because Notre Dame offers health insurance to its students, and especially because it acts as a self-insurer for its employees, the law turns Notre Dame into a conduit for the provision of cost-free contraception…Notre Dame’s only alternative is to endure crippling fines.”

Yet alumni groups such as Sycamore Trust have been critical of the way Notre Dame itself handled the lawsuit against the Health and Human Services mandate from the beginning.

In its denial of relief, the trial court mentioned that Notre Dame’s delay in legally challenging the mandate was “a little hard to swallow.” President Rev. John Jenkins and the administration had told employees just two months prior to filing the lawsuit that they would be receiving free contraceptives. Citing “competitive necessity,” Notre Dame also provided a contraceptive and abortifacient plan to students following the mandate after considering the health plans of other major universities.

Dennis Brown, Notre Dame’s assistant vice president for university communications, did not respond to The College Fix’s request for comment. As of today, Notre Dame has released no official statement about the 7th circuit’s ruling.

College Fix reporter Kate Hardiman is a student at the University of Notre Dame.

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IMAGES: Kate Hardiman

Remember that kerfuffle at Cornell over the Obamacare-lite $350 student health fee? Student activism against it has apparently provoked a criminal investigation.

The Cornell Daily Sun reports that the campus police deny the investigation is related to protests in the Office of the President or the board of trustees meeting in February and March:

However, the CUPD daily crime log for March 26 lists a pending case regarding an unauthorized use of computer at the Statler Hotel [where the board met]. The summary of the incident reads, “Investigator dispatched to take a report regarding unauthorized access to a computer.”

According to a recording obtained by The Sun, when [student protester Daniel] Marshall and a Judicial Codes Counselor voluntarily met with the CUPD investigator at noon on April 21, the investigator questioned Marshall about the preparations the activists had made in advance of the Statler Hall protest, on the night of the 25th. …

Upon confirming that Marshall would not answer any questions, the investigator said that if Marshall did not cooperate, the investigator would press criminal charges — specifically a Class D Felony for burglary and two misdemeanors for tampering with a computer and criminal trespass, according to the recording.

The investigator also claimed to have sent a grand jury subpoena to Facebook to get contact information for students running a protest page.

It’s pissed off faculty:

In response to the investigation, 95 faculty members have signed a letter written by Prof. Raymond Craib, history, expressing dismay over the fact that “the central administration and Cornell Police Department may be threatening and intimidating students on the campus.”

“A police officer threatening to drag a student from class in handcuffs? … Flat-footed and heavy-handed: That sums up the actions of the administration and its police force. Is the central administration that insecure?” the letter reads.

Read the story, which has much more.

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World Net Daily has this shocking report:

In a radio interview Sunday, Princeton University ethics professor Peter Singer argued it is “reasonable” for government or private insurance companies to deny treatment to severely disabled babies.

Singer contended the health-care system under Obamacare should be more overt about rationing and that the country should acknowledge the necessity of “intentionally ending the lives of severely disabled infants.” …

The Princeton professor is known for his controversial views on abortion and infanticide. He essentially argues the right to life is related to a being’s capacity for intelligence and to hold life preferences, which in turn is directly related to a capacity to feel and comprehend pain and pleasure.

Read the full report.

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A lot of student protests are kind of a joke. Their feelings get hurt inexplicably, they camp in the president’s office, they demand ludicrous policy changes.

But sometimes they have a point.

Grad students at the University of Chicago are asking for a pretty reasonable change: the right to see how their “ballooning” student fees get distributed.

The Chicago Maroon reports that about 50 members of Graduate Students United held a protest on the quad Friday to demand the abolishment of the Student Life Fee, which runs $347 per quarter.

According to their “Unfeesible” petition (cute), the fee has gone up 45 percent in five years while wages have remained flat, meaning a grad assistant “earning $3,000 will pay more than 10 percent of her pre-tax teaching wages back to her employer”:

Where does the Student Life Fee go? We don’t really know, since our bills are not itemized.  According to the Office of the Bursar, portions of the revenue are allocated to Student Health and Counseling Services, Student Activities, Campus Activities, and divisional programming, but more specific information is not readily available. We do know that we must pay the Student Life Fee in order to visit Student Health and Counseling Services, even though those of us on the University’s U-SHIP plan are also charged a $3,162 annual health insurance premium. Health care should be a benefit provided with fellowships and employment, not an additional expense, and the lines between health care costs, tuition, and other service costs must be sharply drawn.

They had a meeting last month to discuss the fee structure and other pressing issues for grad students, including child care:

Claire Roosien, a third-year graduate student in Near Eastern languages and civilizations, said that she believes that the University’s system of child-care stipends should be reformed.

“[Student-parents] who are making 20 [$20,000] per year are receiving the same child-care stipend as those who make 65 [$65,000]. Stipends should be tied to income and number of kids,” Roosien said.

For Elfenbein, the result of a steadily increasing SLF, along with other rising fees and unaddressed graduate student concerns, is reduced diversity among the graduate student body.

“We have to ask whether we want to include students who, perhaps, had some kids along the way, or have a disability, or don’t have a trust fund. If we want to have that kind of community, we have to claim it,” Elfenbein said.

These are really good questions for any school that wants a well-rounded student body, not just a certain number of non-white faces with well-off parents and an ethnic rainbow in the glossy PR materials.

The university, of course, doesn’t have to give these grad students everything they want. It’s a starting point for negotiation, or for further explanation as to why all these costs are going up (Obamacare perhaps?).

But it’s nice to see adults acting like adults, for a change.

Greg Piper is an assistant editor at The College Fix. (@GregPiper)

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Unlike ‘Hobby Lobby,’ Christian school won’t have to pay fines for noncompliance

Geneva College isn’t “complicit” in providing abortion drugs for students and employees by telling the government it won’t pay for them in its health plan, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week.

The appeals court overturned a district court ruling that found “self-certification” by the Presbyterian school in Pennsylvania violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the school, said in a statement Wednesday it was “seriously considering” appealing the ruling.

The crux of the dispute lies in whether Geneva College “triggers, facilitates, and makes [it] complicit in the provision” of abortion drugs by its insurance company when it registers its religious objections with the government.

The appeals court decision, written by Judge Marjorie Rendell, distinguishes the case from the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, where a for-profit corporation run by an evangelical family was facing the choice of providing health coverage that includes abortion drugs or paying “substantial fines.”

Geneva College, by contrast, is “not faced with a ‘provide’ or ‘pay’ dilemma because they have a third option—notification pursuant to the accommodation—to avoid both providing contraceptive coverage to their employees and facing penalties for noncompliance with the contraceptive coverage requirement,” Rendell wrote.

Self-certification does nothing to trigger abortion-drug coverage, Rendell said: “Federal law, rather than any involvement by the appellees in filling out or submitting the self-certification form, creates the obligation of the insurance issuers and third-party administrators to provide coverage for contraceptive services” under the Affordable Care Act.

Forcing the government itself to facilitate ‘spiritual development’?

Geneva College chooses to avoid complicity in abortion precisely through a “declaration that they will not be complicit in providing coverage” – the self-certification form, Rendell said. “Ultimately, the regulatory notice requirement does not necessitate any action that interferes with the appellees’ religious activities.”

The judge said the college was trying to exercise “a religious veto” against an insurance company’s legal requirement to provide contraceptive coverage.

Rendell used the hypothetical example of a man who takes time off work on a religious holiday but refuses to submit a “time-off request” because it would make him complicit in someone else working on that religious holiday, in violation of his beliefs.

The decision cites a Supreme Court precedent involving American Indian objections to the use of a Social Security number to get welfare benefits. The high court said in the Bowen decision: “Never to our knowledge has the Court interpreted the First Amendment to require the Government itself to behave in ways that the individual believes will further his or her spiritual development or that of his or her family.”

Rendell said the district court was “misguided” in accepting Geneva College’s claim that its self-certification was the “central cog” that enabled students and employees to get abortion drugs.

Because it has “dispelled the notion that the self-certification procedure is burdensome,” the appeals court “need not consider whether the burden is substantial” on the college, according to the opinion.

Rendell also said the judges wouldn’t consider whether self-certification was the “least restrictive means” of providing abortion drugs to women. That’s part of the legal standard known as strict scrutiny, which courts apply when considering infringements on constitutional rights.

“Geneva College simply wants to abide by the Christian faith it espouses and teaches instead of being forced into an unacceptable inconsistency by the government,” Alliance Defending Freedom said after the ruling. “The administration has no business punishing people of faith for making decisions consistent with that faith.”

Greg Piper is an assistant editor at The College Fix. (@GregPiper)

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Unless they have the university health plan, students are on the hook for a ‘sustainable model’

Students at Cornell University are feeling the after-effects of Obamacare: a new $350 student health fee if they opt out of the university health plan, even if they have separate insurance plans.

Announced last week by President David Skorton, the news spurred a series of rallies on campus, the Twitter hashtag #FightTheFee and an accompanying Twitter handle, which encouraged students to “pack” Thursday’s Student Assembly meeting.

The new health fee would “impact approximately 70 percent of undergraduates, 30 percent of professional and 10 percent of graduate students,” Skorton said in a Feb. 5 statement.

In light of the rise of health services costs, Cornell is restructuring the finances of its Student Health Insurance Plan, or SHIP.

Students who do not opt in to the $2,352 plan will get hit with the $350 fee, which “most likely” won’t be covered by financial aid, according to The Cornell Review. The newspaper said the university plan is run through Aetna, whose CEO is a Cornell MBA grad.

“The current funding approach for student health services relies on central university resources, funds from SHIP for services delivered to its members, and fees charged at the time of services to individuals,” Skorton wrote.

Skorton said in the Feb. 5 statement Cornell’s health services funding has been “strained” in light of rising health insurance costs. Additionally, students will have a $10 co-pay for visits to the campus’ health center, Gannett.

Universities ‘have to find more pockets and that’s what they’re doing’

The rise of health insurance costs is a perpetual trend in the marketplace, and the rising costs specifically at Cornell are a secondary result of the Affordable Care Act, Ed Haislmaier, a health policy researcher at the Heritage Foundation, told The College Fix in an interview.

“From a health policy analysis, [Cornell] has a health center that offers more than a nurse,” Haislmaier said. “They are in the healthcare delivery business now, and that is a fixed cost.”

Haislmaier said that “institutions are going to lose revenue to cover costs” under public and nonprofit models.

Covering costs “has made a lot of university-sponsored student plans more expensive. [Universities] have to find more pockets and that’s what they are doing — they are essentially broadening their tax base,” Haislmaier said.

The fee announcement provoked about 150 students on Monday to occupy Cornell’s main administrative building, Day Hall, as well as Skorton’s office, according to the Review.

Protesters confronted the president, who “reportedly engaged in testy exchanges with several students regarding their grievances against him and the University.”

Protesters across campus shared their outrage about not just the new health fee but also existing financial burdens and “poor treatment of low-level employees,” the Review reported.

They complained about the lack of “shared governance” between the administration and students, as well as alleged bully-like tactics used by university officials to keep Cornell Student Assembly members from leaking further information about the $350 fee.

Paying off old debt

#FightTheFee Outside Media, the public face of the student protesters, accused Cornell of “false” claims that the entire student health fee revenue would go toward student services.

“In reality, only $175 of the fee would go to increasing health services and reducing copays; $75 would go to paying off Gannett debt owed to other internal university funds; and the final $100 would go towards ‘future deficits from increased health services’ – presumably including the planned 55 million-dollar expansion of Gannett’s building,” the group said in a press release.

Implementation of the fee would generate an estimated $3.9 million, which would help to fund the $55 million Gannett Health Services building expansion and renovation, according to the Review.

“Administrators have bullied the [Student Assembly] into not revealing other ‘confidential’ information that might expose the corruption of the University, as made evident by an email from SA President Sarah Balik leaked on social media yesterday night,” #FightTheFee Outside Media’s press release stated.

In spite of student backlash, the administration is doubling down on its financial decision.

Vice President for Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy said in a Wednesday statement “the fee is necessary to create a sustainable model for health services while also increasing accessibility and protecting student privacy.”

“It is our responsibility to work together, to make sure everyone in our community who needs help gets it. That is a burden, and a benefit, we all share,” Murphy said.

College Fix reporter Matthew Boyer is a student at Rutgers University.

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