Obama Assures Vatican That Obamacare Protects Religious Freedom

President Obama said he told Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin today that religious freedom is being respected in the application of Obamacare.

The Vatican meeting, after Obama sat down with Pope Francis, came in the same week as arguments before the Supreme Court about the contraception mandate and religious objections among for-profit businesses.

Obama told reporters that he and Parolin "discussed briefly the issue of making sure that conscience and religious freedom was observed in the context of applying the law."

"And I explained to him that most religious organizations are entirely exempt. Religiously affiliated hospitals or universities or NGOs simply have to attest that they have a religious objection, in which case they are not required to provide contraception although that employees of theirs who choose are able to obtain it through the insurance company," the president haltingly continued.

"And I pledged to continue to dialogue with the U.S. Conference of Bishops to make sure that we can strike the right balance, making sure that not only everybody has healthcare but families, and women in particular, are able to enjoy the kind of healthcare coverage that the ACA offers, but that religious freedom is still observed."

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops filed an amicus brief in support of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood at the end of January.

The USCCB wrote in the brief that it opposes "any rule that would require faithful Catholics and other religiously motivated business owners to choose between providing coverage for products and speech that violate their religious beliefs, and exposing their businesses to devastating penalties." These penalties include "potentially fatal fines" of $100 a day per affected individual.

Frequently pausing and carefully choosing his words, Obama said he and the pontiff talked about "issues of the poor, the marginalized, those without opportunity, and growing inequality" as well as "the challenges of conflict and how elusive peace is around the world."

"I think the theme that stitched our conversation together was a belief that in politics and in life the quality of empathy, the ability to stand in somebody else’s shoes and to care for someone even if they don't look like you or talk like you or share your philosophy -- that that's critical. It’s the lack of empathy that makes it very easy for us to plunge into wars," Obama said. "It's the lack of empathy that allows us to ignore the homeless on the streets.  And obviously central to my Christian faith is a belief in treating others as I’d have them treat me. And what’s I think created so much love and excitement for His Holiness has been that he seems to live this, and shows that joy continuously."