WASHINGTON (RNS) 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.

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chair of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Ad Hoc Committtee for Religious Liberty, speaks at a news conference Tuesday (July 2) at the National Press Club in Washington. He helped spearhead an open letter by faith leaders who consider the Obama administration’s contraception mandate a threat to religious freedom. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chair of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Ad Hoc Committtee for Religious Liberty, speaks at a news conference Tuesday (July 2) at the National Press Club in Washington. He helped spearhead an open letter by faith leaders who consider the Obama administration’s contraception mandate a threat to religious freedom. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

“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.”

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, left, and Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, talk after news conference Tuesday (July 2) at the National Press Club in Washington. They spearheaded an open letter by faith leaders who consider the Obama administration’s contraception mandate a threat to religious freedom. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, left, and Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, talk after news conference Tuesday (July 2) at the National Press Club in Washington. They spearheaded an open letter by faith leaders who consider the Obama administration’s contraception mandate a threat to religious freedom. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

“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.

8 Comments

  1. David Thompson

    How can shares in a corporation have religious sentiment? They cannot. They are trying to preclude females only from having FDA approved contraception. Males can get a prescription for Viagra to control erectile dysfunction, but women can’t have medication to control reproductive rights.

    This is just one more misogynistic evangelical/fundamentalist phobia. I sure hope the lose this battle. Women should have every right to their body that men have to their’s.

    • Louantha Kerr

      “We wish to clarify what this debate is—and is not—about. This is not about access to contraception, which is ubiquitous and inexpensive, even when it is not provided by the Church’s hand and with the Church’s funds. This is not about the religious freedom of Catholics only, but also of those who recognize that their cherished beliefs may be next on the block. This is not about the Bishops’ somehow “banning contraception,” when the U.S. Supreme Court took that issue off the table two generations ago. Indeed, this is not about the Church wanting to force anybody to do anything; it is instead about the federal government forcing the Church—consisting of its faithful and all but a few of its institutions—to act against Church teachings. This is not a matter of opposition to universal health care, which has been a concern of the Bishops’ Conference since 1919, virtually at its founding. This is not a fight we want or asked for, but one forced upon us by government on its own timing. Finally, this is not a Republican or Democratic, a conservative or liberal issue; it is an American issue..

    • Just a thought – contraceptives for men, such as condoms and vasectemies, aren’t generally required to be covered by the ACA. So technically what this is doing is shifting the burden of birth control to women, for whom it it generally MUCH more invasive and risky (read the fine print on any prescription birth control pills, for example). Why would men go spend money on contraception when their partners could get it for free (who cares the cost to their health and comfort)? To be honest, I think there’s a strange sort of anti-feminism in this! Why is it that women are always the ones expected to take responsibility for reproduction, and men aren’t?

      My husband and I use a natural method of fertility awareness, so he has as much responsibility as me if we do get pregnant – we knew we could, so we were making an informed choice together. I feel so much more respected knowing he understands and is working with my body, instead of just expecting me to paste over the way my body functions naturally.

  2. Contraception access is not a fundamental right… where the government is concerned. The existence of the exception alone shows that. You cannot argue the need for birth control coverage for a teacher while at the same time telling a parish office worker to go pound sand. This has been established. We’re just quibbling over were to draw the line.

    And it’s this line that gives the bishops their most legitimate complaint. Religion has two components: the spreading of its philosophy, say in a church, and the application of its tenants, by building schools, hospitals, and charities. I could ask you, what makes a religion more relevant in modern times, how many butts are in the pews or the positive impact it has on its neighbors? Drawing a line around the church effectively serves to marginalize those faiths. It also puts the Obama administration in the unfavorable position of playing referee that will eventually blow up in their face. I don’t understand why they insist on going this route when better compromises exist, even in the president’s home state. Businesses and organizations don’t have to provide the coverage, but they do have provide the woman funds so that she can buy the supplemental coverage if she chooses. There by, all women can get the coverage they want, no one is forced to directly fund it, and the administration avoids having to make awkward calls on what is or isn’t religion.

    By the way, this coalition is a double edged sword. Most of these guys don’t a prohibition on contraception. While it helps to have a larger voice, why are they joining in? Are many genuinely concerned about the religious freedom of their neighbors? Possible, but many are also just conservatives who don’t like the Obama administration in general. And politics can muddle the true objection while lending itself to allegations of misogyny.

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