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Why Melissa Rogers Signed the Health Care Workers Document


Apr 13 2009

Dozens of religious leaders met in Washington with members of Obama's administration last week to go over policy issues. Right before the meetings began, the White House also announced the full Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. One of those members included Melissa Rogers, director of the Wake Forest University School of Divinity Center for Religion and Public Affairs, who joined the council to make sure partnerships between faith-based groups and the government would be constitutionally sound. I recently asked her about the council and why she signed the statement on conscience protections that Katelyn wrote about last week.

Why did you sign the statement urging the Obama administration on conscience protections for health workers? Do you think it will be effective?

First, a bit of background. There are specific conscience protections for health-care workers in federal statutory law. These statutes will continue to exist no matter the outcome of the administrative process - an administrative agency cannot undo federal statutes. The administrative process asked whether a Bush regulation dealing with these issues should be rescinded or retained.

Our statement did not ask the Obama administration to retain or rescind the Bush regulation because we could not agree on that issue. What we agree on is that if the Obama administration rescinds the Bush regulation, it should educate the stakeholders about existing federal statutory protections for the rights of conscience. We also argued that the administration should work with Congress to strengthen the religious accommodation provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, provisions that are broader than the federal statutes that simply address conscience protections in the health-care arena. We believe these Title VII provisions should be amended so that they offer more robust protections for those who seek to have their religious needs respected in the workplace.

As we said in the comments, this should not be a zero-sum game. We should make every effort to honor the rights of conscience while providing access to lawful health-care services.

How is this office different from the one that President Bush established?

The Obama White House has said that ensuring that these partnerships are in compliance with the Constitution is a priority, as is making sure that they are effective and sensibly arranged for both providers and beneficiaries. It has said it won't measure success by how many religious groups or secular groups get government money, but by whether its policy goals (like bringing about an inclusive economic recovery) are being achieved through these partnerships.

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