By CAROL ZIMMERMANN, CNS | Published July 4, 2013
WASHINGTON (CNS)—A diverse group of religious leaders, including Catholics, Protestants, evangelicals and a representative from the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, issued an open letter July 2 urging the U.S. government to “expand conscience protections” in its Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate.
The letter, which said the country’s “delicate liberty of conscience is under threat,” called on HHS to provide conscience protections to “any organization or individual that has religious or moral objections to covering, providing or enabling access to the mandated drugs and services.”
The signers also asked Congress to “consider how it might prevent such offenses from occurring in the future,” noting that any policy “that falls short of affirming full religious freedom protection for all Americans is unacceptable.”
The letter, “Standing Together for Religious Freedom,” was signed by 58 faith representatives and released during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington.
It points out that many of those who signed the letter “do not hold doctrinal objections to the use of contraception” but they stand “united in protest to this mandate.”
The HHS contraceptive mandate, part of the Affordable Care Act, will require most employers, including religious employers, to provide coverage of contraceptives, sterilization and some abortion-inducing drugs free of charge, even if the employer is morally opposed to such services. It includes an exemption for some religious employers that fit its criteria.
“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 says.
It adds that through the contraceptive mandate, HHS “continues to breach universal principles affirmed and protected by the U.S. Constitution and other federal laws.”
The signers said the mandate is a specific offense because 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,” it said.
Among the 58 signatories are: Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, chairman, U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; Russell D. Moore, president, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Southern Baptist Convention; Leith Anderson, president, National Association of Evangelicals; Jo Anne Lyon, general superintendent, Wesleyan Church; the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Hispanic Evangelical Association; Anuttama Dasa, minister of communications and Governing Body Commission vice chair, International Society for Krishna Consciousness; the Rev. Susan Taylor, national public affairs director, Church of Scientology; Sister Jane Marie Klein, board chair, Franciscan Alliance Inc.; and three Little Sisters of the Poor provincial superiors, for the order’s Brooklyn, Chicago and Baltimore provinces.