HHS mandate

New American Bible Society policy defends (a) ancient orthodoxy, (b) evangelicalism or (c) both?

New American Bible Society policy defends (a) ancient orthodoxy, (b) evangelicalism or (c) both?

Let's start with a few old questions about Christian doctrine and church history.

First, what does does the Roman Catholic Church -- at the level of its Catechism -- teach about the definition of marriage and the moral status of sex outside of marriage?

Second question: What doctrines do Eastern Orthodox churches around the world affirm on these same topics, which have implications for issues such as cohabitation before marriage and premarital sex?

Third question: What do the vast majority of Anglican churches around the world teach on these same issues? Ditto for United Methodists?

Come to think of it, what does the ancient Christian document known as the Didache have to say on issues linked to marriage and sex?

I could go on. However, let's jump to a current news story that is linked to these issues. In particular, I would like to call attention to the Religion News Service report that was posted with this headline: "Employees quit American Bible Society over sex and marriage rules." The overture is quite strong:

(RNS) -- One of the oldest nonprofit organizations dedicated to distributing Bibles around the world will soon require all employees to adhere to orthodox Christian beliefs and heed a conservative code of sexual ethics.

Employees are resigning in protest of the new policy, which will effectively prohibit sexually active LGBT people and couples in cohabitating relationships from working for the American Bible Society. But the organization stands by it as a measure intended to bring “unity and clarity.”

The key word in that lede is "orthodox," with a small "o." It would have been possible, I guess, to have used phrases such as "ancient Christian beliefs" or even "traditional Christian beliefs." Both would have been accurate in terms of history. In this context, the use of "conservative" is fine, since there are "liberal" churches that have modernized their doctrines on these subjects.

However, strange things start happening soon after that strong, factual opening, Note, for example, the end of this paragraph:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Wheaton College gets big religious liberty win, which inspires a case of news-media crickets

Wheaton College gets big religious liberty win, which inspires a case of news-media crickets

Several years ago, there was a mini-wave of mainstream media coverage when a variety of Christian ministries and institutions of higher learning took risky stands against the Health and Human Services mandate that required most religious institutions to offer their employees, and often students, health-insurance plans covering sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives, including "morning-after pills."

The problem, of course, is that members of most of these religious communities had accepted, and in most cases signed, covenants defending centuries of doctrines on marriage and sexuality. To varying degrees, some or all of these HHS demands violated doctrines that leaders of these institutions had promised to defend.

One high-profile case involved Wheaton College, a famous evangelical Protestant school near Chicago. Wheaton leaders refused to buckle under government pressure and kept fighting in the courts -- a process that drew coverage in news outlets such as USA Today, The Washington Post and, logically enough, the nearby Chicago Tribune (check out this Google News search for examples).

So what happened -- in terms of news coverage -- when Wheaton won a crucial district-court victory upholding the college's First Amendment rights?

To find out, click on the video at the top of this post (or just click here).

Ever since that ruling, your GetReligionistas have been watching to see what kind of mainstream coverage there would be about this story. Activists at the conservative NewsBusters website were doing the same thing and published this summary: "Not News: Wheaton College Wins Permanent Injunction Against ObamaCare Contraception Mandate." It noted:

During the past several days, the press mentioned Wheaton College in Illinois when a former student was arrested for multiple burglaries, and when there were new developments relating to a football team hazing incident. On the positive side, the college's partnership with a school for children with disabilities got coverage, as of course did Wheaton's most famous graduate, the just-passed Rev. Billy Graham. But there hasn't been a word in the national establishment press about the Christian college's victory over the Obamacare contraception mandate -- a victory which should ripple though all remaining related cases.

Of course, this crucial update in a national-level case did receive all kinds of attention in alternative "conservative" news outlets.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Of all the contraceptive mandate stories out there, very few quoted religious folks

Of all the contraceptive mandate stories out there, very few quoted religious folks

Trying to dissect the Donald Trump Administration’s decision to religiously minded employers to cut birth control from their health plans is like tackling an elephant. But one has to start somewhere.

Just for review, we have covered this topic before here, here and here

As I scanned various articles on the topic, I noticed how few articles explained why some people and employers have religious objections to contraceptives. Do those in the media think we know these reasons already, so it’s no using re-explaining them? In other words, how do you understand this story without talking to people in the faith-based schools and ministries that are at the heart of the decision?

The most cogent piece was from the Atlantic:

Faced with setbacks on the legislative front, the Trump administration is going it alone on taking apart the Affordable Care Act piecemeal.
On Friday, the administration made one of its boldest moves yet, with two memos from multiple agencies that would dramatically curtail women’s access to birth control through their employers. The new regulations, effective immediately, would exempt all employers and insurers from covering or paying for coverage of contraceptives if they object “based on its sincerely held religious beliefs,” or have other “moral convictions” against covering such care.

 Mind you, this is not all employers, but it is those who have religious objections to it contraceptives being included in their employee health coverage. We’re talking about 71 companies here, according to Mother Jones.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

When profiling a Trump HHS appointee, The Atlantic misses key journalism cues

When profiling a Trump HHS appointee, The Atlantic misses key journalism cues

This should be an obvious fact, but to some, it may be shocking: When a given political candidate wins election as President of the United States, they and their team gain the right to appoint bureaucrats of their choosing at federal agencies. Many must be confirmed by the Senate and some may be denied confirmation or withdraw their nominations. Generally, however, the new sheriff gets to name their principal deputies. It's one of the job's perks, alongside a private helicopter and jumbo jet.

Granted, my explanation is on a par with that now oft-mocked Sesame Street cartoon about how a bill becomes a law. But it appears to have been forgotten in the four and one-half months since a real estate mogul born and raised in the New York City borough of Queens was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States.

There's been plenty of ink -- and misapprehensions -- about some of President Donald J. Trump's appointees, but there are also attempts at more insightful coverage, as GetReligion alumna Mollie Hemingway tweeted on Wednesday:

Great piece by @emmaogreen: The devout, conservative head of civil rights at HHS could reshape American health care

Herewith The Atlantic's take on the new head of the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services:

The offices inside the Department of Health and Human Services are aggressively tan. Roger Severino, the newly appointed head of its Office for Civil Rights, hasn’t done much by way of decoration. Aside from a few plaques and leftover exhibits from old cases, his Clarence Thomas bobblehead doll and crucifix are the only personal touches in his work space.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Today in Kellerism: New York Times reporters offer contraceptive mandate apologetics (updated)

Today in Kellerism: New York Times reporters offer contraceptive mandate apologetics (updated)

The Little Sisters of the Poor is an order of Roman Catholic nuns who take care of elderly people, many (if not most) of whom are indigent or nearly so.

As a non-profit, the Little Sisters provide health insurance for their employees, under a so-called "church plan," a special type of insurance for, well, religious organizations. The Christian Brothers, another Roman Catholic order, administers the insurance for the Little Sisters.

Years of back-and-forth charges and counter-charges over a 2011 rule promulgated by the Obama administration Department of Health and Human Services have just about come to an end. The current administration, following the promise made by President Donald J. Trump, is planning to roll back the contraceptive mandate's application to religious groups -- both religious groups (and their branch organizations) and other doctrinally defined schools and non-profit ministries, such as the Little Sisters.

Cue up a dose of Kellerism, the journalistic belief that certain issues have already been decided by American elites and do not need "balanced" coverage. Unsurprisingly, The New York Times, whose onetime editor Bill Keller provided the name for this GetReligion term, is at the head of the class on this story, headlining its piece, "White House Acts to Roll Back Birth-Control Mandate for Religious Employers."

Let's dive in:

WASHINGTON -- Federal officials, following through on a pledge by President Trump, have drafted a rule to roll back a federal requirement that many religious employers provide birth control coverage in health insurance plans.
The mandate for free contraceptive coverage was one of the most hotly contested Obama administration policies adopted under the Affordable Care Act, and it generated scores of lawsuits by employers that had religious objections to it.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Mirror image time again: Trump's people still fighting Little Sisters, religious schools?

Mirror image time again: Trump's people still fighting Little Sisters, religious schools?

So here is a story that is causing lots of traditional religious believers to shake their heads today. They are reacting to headlines, like this one at The Washington Post states: "Trump has yet to signal his approach to Obamacare birth-control mandate."

Once again let me stress that we are talking about head shaking in two different camps of religious conservatives. The best evidence is that they are pretty equal in size, as GetReligion has been noting since last summer (here is yet another hat tip pointing readers to this fine Christianity Today feature).

In one camp are the religious conservatives who enthusiastically embraced Citizen Donald Trump, pretty much from Day 1.

In the other camp are religious conservatives who never endorsed Trump, at any stage of the game, yet felt they had to vote for him in order to defeat Hillary Rodham Clinton. Here is what I heard legions of folks in that camp say: "I do not know what Donald Trump will do, but I know what Hillary Clinton will do. I will have to risk voting for him."

So, what were they so concerned about, in terms of what the candidates "will do"?

We are, 99.9 percent of the time, talking about two crucial issues: The U.S. Supreme Court and/or battles over religious liberty. At this point in time -- as the world awaits votes by the newest justice on the U.S. Supreme Court -- most conservatives are pretty pleased with that first issue. But what about that second concern, in light of this overture at the Post?

President Trump had promised religious groups that he would reverse the Obama administration’s requirement that employers provide birth control to their employees under the Affordable Care Act.
But his Justice Department indicated Monday that it’s not yet giving up a fight with religious schools and nonprofits that are suing over the contraception mandate.
The department has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit for an additional 60 days to negotiate with East Texas Baptist University and several other religious groups objecting to a requirement to which they are morally opposed.

To which some people, in this case Rod "Benedict Option" Dreher are saying, "WHAT'S THAT?!"

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Is this a religion story? New HHS rules push faith-based hospitals on transgender issues

Is this a religion story? New HHS rules push faith-based hospitals on transgender issues

At some point, journalists need to stop and ask the following question: Is there any part of the Affordable Care Act that doesn't raise moral and legal questions for the leaders of hospitals operated by religious groups?

What about religious believers who are doctors, nurses, medical technicians or administrators? I think we'll need to deal with that hot-button religious liberty issue another day.

Right now, let's just say that I was amazed at the lack of mainstream news coverage of a recent Health and Human Services announcement about the impact of the White House's gender identity initiatives on medical care. (Click here for the actual document.) Maybe this important story got buried under the tsunami of coverage of government guidelines affecting how public schools handle transgender issues at the level of showers, locker rooms, bathrooms, etc.

Did this HHS announcement have implications for journalists who cover religion?

Apparently not. Here is the top of the short story that ran at USA Today. I missed this story in my early searches for mainstream coverage.

Insurers and hospitals can't discriminate against patients because of their gender identity under the Affordable Care Act, federal officials said Friday, but patient groups complained the rule doesn't go far enough.
The Department of Health and Human Services finalized a rule that prohibited discrimination in health care based on a long list of characteristics ranging from race to pregnancy, gender identity and "sex stereotyping."
It doesn't mean insurers have to cover all treatments associated with gender transitioning but they just can't outright deny them either. But the rule doesn't go far enough in clarifying what is discrimination, some say.

In the final sentence, the story notes:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Will the waning Barack Obama administration rewrite religious hiring rules?

Will the waning Barack Obama administration rewrite religious hiring rules?

Church-and-state disputes are a hot beat and it's getting hotter all the time.

We have religious objections over the government’s transgender bid to control school toilets and locker rooms nationwide, the Supreme Court’s bounce back of the Little Sisters’ “Obamacare” contraception case, states’ debates over whether merchants can decline gay wedding services on religious grounds, and much else.

Media coverage to date shows little interest in how church-state policy might be affected by a President Clinton, or a President Trump, or the jurists on Donald Trump’s recent Supreme Court list, or a Justice Merrick Garland. Will this be raised at a big June 9-11 “religious right” confab in D.C.? Speakers will include Trump and former challengers Cruz, Fiorina, Huckabee, Kasich, Paul, and Rubio, plus House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Meanwhile, interest groups are ardently lobbying the Obama Administration to change religious hiring policies during its waning days. At issue is application of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) under the 2007 “World Vision memorandum” (click for .pdf) from the Bush Administration’s Department of Justice.

World Vision, a major evangelical organization, had landed a $1.5 million grant to provide mentoring for at-risk youths. The memo ruled that it’s legal for such religious agencies fulfilling service programs through  federal grants to consider religious faith in their hiring. The Obama White House has thus far resisted pressure to abolish that policy, most recently in a Feb. 22 letter from ranking Democrats in the U.S. House.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

M.Z. asks: Why do some journalists avoid using the name of the 'Little Sisters of the Poor'?

M.Z. asks: Why do some journalists avoid using the name of the 'Little Sisters of the Poor'?

It happens. Every now and then, during my daily tsunami of reading mainstream news reports about religion, I look right at something and fail to see it.

Consider, for example, that rather important religion-news ghost in that New York Times story the other day about a certain non-decision decision by the U.S. Supreme Court about the Health and Human Services mandates linked to the Affordable Care Act. The headline on the story was this rather ho-hum statement: "Justices, Seeking Compromise, Return Contraception Case to Lower Courts."

Now, the Supreme Court is in Washington, so I focused most of my post on the Washington Post coverage of this religious-liberty case, which involves quite a few Christian ministries and schools (see this Bobby Ross, Jr., post for more). However, for a variety of reasons, public discussions of the case have boiled down to the Barack Obama administration vs. the Little Sisters of the Poor. In part, as illustrated in the photo at the top of the post, we can thank Pope Francis for that.

My post the other day focused on the fact that many journalists -- headline writers in particular -- seemed frustrated that this case keeps going on and on and on, with one complicated and nuanced development after another. As I put it, the desire of many editors is clear:

The goal is to write that final headline that Will. Make. This. Stuff. Go. Away.

Toward the end of the piece I turned, briefly, to the coverage in The New York Times. To make a long story short, I saw a few interesting details and missed The Big Idea in that report. You see, the college of journalism cardinals at the Times, and in some other newsrooms, found a way to write about this case without mentioning some rather important words, as in, "Little Sisters of the Poor."

Luckily for me, there are now -- more than 12 years into the life of this blog -- lots of people who know how to spot a GetReligion angle in the news. That includes, of course, one M.Z. "GetReligion emerita" Hemingway of The Federalist.

Please respect our Commenting Policy