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We acknowledge that Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists have differing views on how we understand and practice our faith, stemming from our differing concepts of what we view as our supreme authority. For Southern Baptists, authority is in Scripture alone. For Catholics, authority is in Scripture and the church.
For example, most Baptists have a different perspective than do Catholics on the use of contraceptives by a married couple, because we believe Scripture does not condemn it, yet we hold an almost identical perspective on abortion because of the Bible’s clear teaching on the sanctity of every human life.
Despite our theological differences, we cannot remain silent while others find their First Amendment freedom of religion rights trampled.
As Baptists we defend Catholics’ right to not have their consciences coerced by government edict on the issue of contraception.
In the Manhattan Declaration (2009), Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians proclaimed, “Christians confess that God alone is Lord of the conscience. Immunity from religious coercion is the cornerstone of an unconstrained conscience.”
Pope John Paul II wrote that religious freedom is the “first freedom.” It is, he continued, “the premise and guarantee of all freedoms that ensure the common good.”
There are areas of our lives in which we are to submit to the state and there are areas, clearly delineated by our faith, in which the state must not intrude. As Christ Himself said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s (Mark 12:17).
As Americans–Catholics and Baptists alike–we are in absolute agreement on the inviolable freedom of conscience, a right recognized and guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution to every American citizen.
It is difficult to comprehend why the Obama administration would so excessively overreach in their January 20 mandate that health insurance plans for Catholic and other faith-based hospitals and charities, etc., must subsidize coverage for contraceptives as preventive services. In light of the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC (2012) that the government telling a religious group who they can hire or fire is clearly in violation of the First Amendment, it is amazing they would engage in such government overreach once again.
The president’s “compromise” 21 days later revealed the White House’s basic lack of understanding by thinking this issue could be solved simply by word games or accounting tricks. Moreover, it ignores the needs of many of the oldest and largest church insurance plans in the nation. GuideStone, the provider of insurance for many Southern Baptists, is self-funded, which means it pays benefits directly instead of using a third-party insurance company. In the name of religious freedom, it cannot be forced by the government to provide services contrary to its religious convictions.
The federal government’s decision is a flagrant violation of the First Amendment’s free exercise clause protections enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
This mandate by the executive branch is less about birth control, abortion or the Catholic Church than it is about the government attempting to compel people to subsidize and pay for that which they find unconscionable.
Thomas Jefferson understood the impropriety of requiring citizens to involuntarily fund activities they find morally repugnant. In the draft of the Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom (1779), Jefferson wrote, “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical.”
The Obama administration’s mandate on contraception coverage is a blatant and outrageous encroachment on religious freedom.
We urge Americans of all faiths (and no faith) to call upon the Obama administration to rescind this order, which is a gross violation of the First Amendment. We encourage you to contact your U.S. senators and your congressman, urging them to press the White House to reverse this decision and to support legislation that would undo this unwarranted government overreach.
Bryant Wright, President of the Southern Baptist Convention and Senior Pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church
Richard Land, President, The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
O. S. Hawkins, President/CEO, GuideStone Financial Resources, Southern Baptist Convention