More than 100 Catholic bishops and institutions across the nation have issued statements denouncing the Obama administration's national requirement to include contraception in employees' health benefits. The Affordable Care Act mandates faith-based employers offer employees’ health coverage that includes sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs and contraception.
Roman Catholic Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell has released a letter at local Catholic Masses in Springfield, Mass., denouncing the mandate as an attack on religious liberties of all faiths.
“The federal government, which claims to be ‘of, by, and for the people,’ has just dealt a heavy blow to almost a quarter of those people – the Catholic population – and to the millions more who are served by the Catholic faithful,” a part of the letter reads.
Catholic church teachings oppose birth control. According to church teaching, suppressing fertility by using contraception denies part of the inherent meaning of married sexuality and does harm to the couple’s unity.
McDonnell, along with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and his institutional counterparts across the nation, denounced the law to parishioners in written pleas at Masses this past weekend, saying the church will resort to breaking federal law in an act of civil disobedience if need be.
“Unless the rule is overturned, Catholic entities will be compelled either to violate conscience, or drop health coverage for employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so). The Administration’s sole concession was to give our institutions one year to comply ... we cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law,” McDonnell wrote.
Congressman Rubio Introduces Bill
Last week, Senator Marco Rubio of (R-Fla.) publicly defended the concerns of the Catholic bishops, noting President Barack Obama and his administration ignored efforts by numerous faith-based organizations to be granted an exemption on religious grounds. He also introduced the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2012.
Rubio says it is a bill designed to repeal a new ObamaCare mandate that violates the religious liberties and conscience rights of faith-based institutions by forcing them to offer employees insurance coverage for contraceptives.
“The Obama administration’s obsession with forcing mandates on the American people has now reached a new low by violating the conscience rights and religious liberties of our people,” said Rubio. “Under this president, we have a government that has grown too big, too costly and now even more overbearing by forcing religious entities to abandon their beliefs. This is a common sense bill that simply says the government can’t force religious organizations to abandon the fundamental tenets of their faith because the government says so.”
During his weekly press conference, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said, “I think this mandate violates our Constitution” as it forces Catholics to violate their consciences.
Catholics aren’t alone in their outrage over the contraception mandate in the new health care law. Evangelicals have joined Catholics in their battle to protect religious liberties.
Michael Anthony Milton, Ph.D., serves as the chancellor/CEO elect of Reformed Theological Seminary. He calls the “pulpit protest” by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops unprecedented. “But make no mistake,” said Milton. “This is not a Catholic issue only. It is not a contraception issue. It is a religious liberty issue. It is an American issue.”
Milton, who serves one of the largest accredited seminaries in the country, foresees a constitutional crisis if there isn’t a “wholesale” repeal of the Act.
“It is time for Americans to speak up for religious freedom while there is still time,” said Milton. “Thank God for the Catholic bishops and priests who did. We all must. For you can't lose just a little liberty. You lose -- we lose -- all of it when we lose any of it.”
The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president of the St. Louis-based Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, issued a statement Friday about religious freedom in light of the new health care reform.
“For centuries, Lutherans have joyfully delivered Christ’s mercy to others and embraced His call to care for the needy within our communities and around the world. In a nation that has allowed more than 54 million legal abortions since 1973, we must consider the marginalization of unborn babies and object to this mandate.”
The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) also opposes the decision. Earlier this month, religious institutions were given until August 2012 to comply with the Obama administration's decision.
“Freedom of conscience is a sacred gift from God, not a grant from the state,” said Galen Carey, NAE Vice President for Government Relations. “No government has the right to compel its citizens to violate their conscience. The HHS rules trample on our most cherished freedoms and set a dangerous precedent.”
The NAE notes the new policy includes a thin exemption for religious organizations that focus only on religious services to their particular constituents. The exemption leaves a majority of religious employers unprotected.
“If this narrow definition of ‘religious employer’ is adopted in other areas of law, it may lead to further erosion of the conscience protections Americans have historically held,” said Carey.
The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) has also weighed in on the matter. Organization officials sent a letter to the White House expressing its continued concern about the contraceptive mandate, including coverage of abortifacient medications.
“While our schools take different positions on the services mandated by the regulations [contraception, emergency contraception, and sterilization], they are united in their belief that compelling those with a religious objection to support services that their religious convictions forbid violates the Constitution,” wrote CCCU President Paul R. Corts.
Consequently, Corts urged the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services to create an exemption that would include all religious organizations, not just those that perform solely religious functions, serve only those that share their religious tenets, and are connected to a larger church or denominational structure.
The CCCU letter indicated that the current religious exemption does not provide any accommodation for health plans that CCCU institutions provide to students. Corts explained that many schools object to being required to offer emergency contraceptives as it both violates their religious convictions and is in direct contradiction to the behavioral standards that schools require of their students. In order to correct this, an expansion of the current exemption would have to apply to plans beyond those offered by religious employers.
Russ Jones is a 20-year award winning journalist and correspondent. He is co-publisher of various Christian news sites such as ChristianPress.com, OxfordFamily.com and a media consultant. He is also a freelance correspondent for the American Family Radio Network, Crosswalk.com and various Christian TV networks. He holds degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia and St. Paul School of Theology. Russ enjoys keeping his mind engaged in the academic arena teaching subjects like Introduction to World Religions, Introduction to Mass Communication, Ethics and Biblical Literature. Russ is married to Jackie and together they have four children. He may be reached at [email protected].
Publication date: February 7, 2012