Broad coalition says contraception mandate a religious liberty threat

WASHINGTON — Just days after the Obama administration issued final rules to religious groups for its contraception mandate, a broad … Continued

WASHINGTON — Just days after the Obama administration issued final rules to religious groups for its contraception mandate, a broad coalition spearheaded by Catholic and Southern Baptist leaders is pushing back, saying the rules threaten religious liberty for people of all faiths.

In an open letter titled “Standing Together for Religious Freedom,” the group says the final rules from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services violate their freedom of conscience.

“We simply ask the government not to set itself up as lord of our consciences,” said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He was joined by Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore at a news conference at the National Press Club.

“HHS is forcing Citizen A, against his or her moral convictions, to purchase a product for Citizen B,” reads the open letter signed by dozens of leaders from evangelical, Orthodox, Mormon and Hare Krishna groups. “The HHS policy is coercive and puts the administration in the position of defining — or casting aside — religious doctrine. This should trouble every American.”

The Affordable Care Act requires most employers to provide contraception coverage to staffers at no cost.

The signatories want HHS “at a minimum” to expand the exemption to “any organization or individual that has religious or moral objections” to the mandate. They also asked Congress to prevent similar regulations from being enacted in the future.

The letter notes that many of the signatories are not doctrinally opposed to the use of contraception but nevertheless are concerned that the civil liberties of others will be compromised by the rules that will take effect  on Jan. 1, 2014.

HHS declined to comment due to ongoing litigation. The controversy has fueled 60 lawsuits, many from religious colleges that do not want to offer staff or students contraception coverage.

The final rules exempt groups designated as a “religious employer” — houses of worship and affiliated religious nonprofits — from the mandate, but private businesses owned by religious employers are not exempt. The rules also call for insurers, or third-party administrators, to provide contraceptive coverage for nonprofit religious organizations that object to the coverage.

Lori and Moore, who last month welcomed the introduction of a proposed Health Care Conscience Rights Act, criticized the government’s definitions of what is “religious.”

“We in the Catholic Church have never seen such a distinction between what we do within the walls of a church and how we serve our neighbors,” said Lori, chair of the Catholic bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. “The faith by which we worship on Sunday is the very same faith by which we act in the world the other six days of the week.”

The letter penned by the coalition asks: ”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?”

Although the administration has declared the rules to be “final,” Moore said the coalition protesting them is not through with its work and hopes the administration will reconsider.

“We’re not going away,” he vowed.

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Adelle M. Banks | Religion News Service Adelle M. Banks is a production editor and national correspondent at RNS.
  • alert4jsw

    This is a threat to religious “liberty” only for those who believe that their liberty is the privilege of forcing everyone else to compromise their own beliefs to obey the rules these people want to set.

    No one is forcing these people to avail themselves of the contraceptive coverage in their health plans. But the “late unpleasantness” of 1861-1865 made it clear that while people may own their businesses, they do not own their employees. And a business (or professional) license cofers no authority to be the moral arbiter of anyone elses life.

    If these people were Jehovah’s Witnesses and were arguing that being forced to provide coverage for blood transfusions in their health plans was a violation of their “religious liberty,” they would be quite properly laughted out of the room. Why should their opinions regarding contraceptives be any different?

  • amelia45

    The real threat to religious liberty comes in empowering an employer to use his religious beliefs to determine how his employees live. Everyone of the employees of a Catholic charity, university, or hospital will lose something that employees of other organizations have by law, they lose not just access to contraceptives but the right to follow his own conscience.

    The real loss of liberty is to the individual if an organization or an employer is allowed to limit the legal choices of employees. It is class war-fare, economic war-fare and economic coercion between organizations and individuals, between employers and employees.

    The relationship between employer and employee is one that belongs in the public sphere. The fact that an employer is a religious organization should not mean that those who work for that organization lose the protections of laws that in all other situations bring about fair-play in the working world.

  • Hildy J

    The bible never actually mentions birth control but it does clearly say “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” (1 Timothy 2:12)

    Would anybody be defending any of these whiners if a business refused to promote a woman into a position of authority over men based on the clear direction of the bible?

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