In an open letter to all Americans, religious leaders as varied as Catholic Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore and Susan Taylor, the National Public Affairs Director of the Church of Scientology, have responded to the Obama administration’s “final” ruling regarding the HHS mandate that all employers carry health insurance that includes birth control, abortificients and abortion coverage. The letter, entitled “Standing Together For Religious Freedom”, acknowledges the signators have a wide range of beliefs and that many of the signators do not have a moral problem with birth control and/or abortion, but are concerned with the threat to religious freedom that the HHS mandate represents.
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 letter goes on to urge the Department of Health and Human Services to change its call for this type of insurance coverage, citing the need for “conscience protection”:
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.
The letter was released to the press on July 2 at the National Press Club. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, gave remarks to the press concerning this letter. Noting that this coalition of religious leaders had many doctrinal differences, the matter of religious freedom and freedom of conscience has brought them together.
The Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate has catalyzed this coalition. This mandate imposes heavy fines and legal penalties on organizations and businesses which do not participate in the provision of contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs. The issue here is not contraception or abortion. We wouldn’t all agree on those questions ourselves. At issue is the callous disregard our government has shown for the freedom of Americans to exercise their religious convictions.
Russell also said that “[w]e cannot accept the theology lessons the government has sought to teach us” and asked that the government not be allowed to be “lord of our consciences.”
Dr. Yuri Mantilla, Associate Professor of Law, Director of Global Initiatives, and Program Director of the LL.M. Degree at the Liberty University School of Law, also spoke. Calling religious freedom a “cornerstone” of the American legal system, Mantilla said violations of religious freedom, whether in America or abroad, are always a violation of human rights.
A country which undermines religious freedom norms in its own jurisdiction cannot lead the cause of religious freedom globally. It is time to restore the great American tradition of respect for religious freedom as a fundamental civil right. If this happens, then America will once again be able to become a leader in the global cause for the defense of religious freedom as a fundamental human right.