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U.S. Bishops, Southern Baptist Conference Issue "Open Letter" calling for expanded religious exemption and conscience rights for religious institutions and family businesses.
BY Joan Desmond
Last week, the Obama adminisrtration rolled out the latest and final iteration of its so-called accommodation for relgious employers that object to the HHS contraception mandate on moral grounds. The U.S.bishops did not issue an immediate response outlining how church-affiliated institutions should respond. The stakes are high, and there has been a great deal of speculation about whether U.S.dioceses and Catholic institutions are likely to adopt a unified position.
Just watched a July 2 Capitol Hill press conference on the HHS mandate that outlined religious groups on-going concerns about the federal law. Panelists included Archbishop Lori of Baltimore, Russell D. Moore of the Ethical and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and other Christian leaders, a reminder that the religious liberty fight has helped overcome lingering tensions between Catholics and evangelicals..
Archbishop Lori was asked what the bishops will do next, and he said they were continuing to study the 100 pages of government regulations issued late last week. In the meantime, the bishops and other religious leaders that oppose the HHS mandate as a direct threat to the free exercise of religious institutions, issued Standing Together for Religious FreedomAn Open Letter to All Americans.
Here is the text of the ecumenical call to arms in full:
We write as an informal and diverse group of religious leaders, theologians, lay practitioners and community servants. We believe the doctrines of our respective faiths require something of us beyond the walls of our churches, synagogues, temples, and other places of worship. Those faith convictions manifest themselves through our daily interactions among family, neighbors, strangers and institutions.
Further, we recognize the United States, at its best, is unique among the nations of the world when it defends the self-evident freedom of all people to exercise their faith according to the dictates of their consciences. This freedom contributes to the vibrancy of our nation. Unfortunately, this delicate liberty of conscience is under threat.
Through its contraceptive coverage mandate, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) continues to breach universal principles affirmed and protected by the U.S. Constitution and other federal laws. While the mandate is a specific offense, it represents a greater fundamental breach of conscience by the federal government. Very simply, HHS is forcing Citizen A, against his or her moral convictions, to purchase a product for Citizen B. The HHS policy is coercive and puts the administration in the position of defining–or casting aside–religious doctrine. This should trouble every American.
Many of the signatories on this letter do not hold doctrinal objections to the use of contraception. Yet we stand united in protest to this mandate, recognizing the encroachment on the conscience of our fellow citizens. Whether or not we agree with the particular conscientious objection is beside the point. HHS continues to deny many Americans the freedom to manifest their beliefs through practice and observance in their daily lives.
The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Free exercise includes the freedom to order one’s life, liberties and pursuits in accordance with his or her convictions. HHS breaches the free exercise clause and federal statutes (passed with broad bipartisan support) by selectively denying some Americans this constitutionally protected right.
Americans afford each other broad liberties with respect to lifestyle choices. However, the federal government has neither a compelling interest nor the appropriate authority to coerce one citizen to fund or facilitate specific lifestyle choices of another. If the federal government can force morally opposed individuals to purchase contraception or abortion-causing drugs and devices for a third party, what prevents this or future administrations from forcing other Americans to betray their deeply held convictions?
Therefore, we call upon HHS to, at a minimum, expand conscience protections under the mandate to cover any organization or individual that has religious or moral objections to covering, providing or enabling access to the mandated drugs and services. Further, because HHS claims to be acting on authority granted it by Congress, we ask Congress to consider how it might prevent such offenses from occurring in the future. Any policy that falls short of affirming full religious freedom protection for all Americans is unacceptable.
Here are the signatories:
Most Rev. William E. Lori
Archbishop of Baltimore
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty
Russell D. Moore, Ph.D.
Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of
the Southern Baptist Convention
National Association of Evangelicals
Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church of America
Association of Gospel Rescue Missions
Bishop Gary E. Stevenson
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Randall A. Bach
Open Bible Churches
The Most Rev. Craig W. Bates
International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church
Stephen Baskerville, Ph.D.
Professor of Government
Patrick Henry College
A.D. Beacham, Jr., Th.M.
International Pentecostal Holiness Church
Dr. Gary M. Benedict
The Christian and Missionary Alliance, U.S.
J. Brian Benestad, Ph.D
Department of Theology
The Rev. Roger Boucher
Commander, US Navy (ret)
Chaplain at College of St. Mary Magdalen
Bishop John F. Bradosky
North American Lutheran Church
Minister of Communications
Governing Body Commissioner, Vice Chair
International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)
Most Revd Robert Duncan
Anglican Church in North America
Rev. Jim Eschenbrenner
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez
National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
Hispanic Evangelical Association
Rev. Dr . Matthew C. Harrison
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
Dr. William J. Hamel
Evangelical Free Church
Bishop Bruce D. Hill
Evangelical Congregational Church
Great Commission Churches
Missionary Church, Inc.
Clyde M. Hughes
International Pentecostal Church of Christ
Dr. Jeffrey Jeremiah
Evangelical Presbyterian Church
Jo Anne Lyon
The Wesleyan Church
Dr. George O. Wood
Assemblies of God
Brethren in Christ Church, U.S.
Grace Communion International
Most Reverend Nicholas J. Samra
Bishop of Newton
Melkite Greek Catholic Church
Rev. Susan Taylor
National Public Affairs Director
Church of Scientology
Anne Hendershott, Ph.D.
Daniel R. Kempton, Ph.D.
Patrick Lee, Ph.D.
Franciscan University of Steubenville
Assist. Prof. Richard S. Meloche, Ph.D.
Department of Philosophy & Theology
St. Gregory's University
Sister Jane Marie Klein
Chairperson of the Board
Franciscan Alliance, Inc.
Richard Land, D.Phil.
Southern Evangelical Seminary
Marc A. LePain
Professor of Theology
Fr. Sean O. Sheridan, TOR
Franciscan University of Steubenville
Senior Vice President
Focus on the Family
The Mitchell Firm
Executive Director & CEO
Christian Legal Society
Fellowship of Evangelical Churches
Patrick J. Reilly
The Cardinal Newman Society
Dr. William Riordan
Director of Undergraduate Theology
Ave Maria University
Terri Marsh, J.D., Ph.D.
Human Rights Law Firm
President & CEO
Catholics for Freedom of Religion
Steven A. Long, Ph.D
Professor of Theology
Ave Maria University
Prof. Dr. Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher, and
Prof. Dr. Christof Sauer
International Institute for Religious Freedom
Alliance Defending Freedom
David Stevens, MD, MA
Christian Medical Association
Rabbi Aryeh Spero
Caucus for America
Craig Steven Titus, S.T.D./Ph.D.
Director of Integrative Studies
Institute for the Psychological Sciences
Institute on Religion and Democracy
Ryan Topping, Ph.D.
Thomas More College of Liberal Arts
Sister Margaret Regina Halloran, l.s.p.
Provincial Superior, Brooklyn Province
Sister Maria Christine Lynch, l.s.p.
Provincial Superior, Chicago Province
Sister Loraine Marie Clare Maguire, l.s.p.
Provincial Superior, Baltimore Province
Little Sisters of the Poor