WASHINGTON – A diverse group of religious leaders announced Tuesday an open letter to all Americans saying they will continue to fight for their religious freedom by opposing the Obama administration's birth control mandate.
The birth control mandate violates religious freedom, in particular freedom of conscience, the letter states, by forcing certain citizens to purchase a product that is in violation of their religious beliefs.
"Through its contraceptive coverage mandate," it reads, "the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) continues to breach universal principles affirmed and protected by the U.S. Constitution and other federal laws. While the mandate is a specific offense, 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."
The birth control mandate was first announced in January 2012, by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The mandate requires most employers to cover contraception, sterilization and some abortifacient drugs in their employees health care plans.
There is an exemption for religious groups, but the exemption is so narrow that most religious groups, including social service organizations, hospitals and schools, do not qualify. Worship is considered religion under the rule, but serving those in need is not. At a Tuesday press conference in Washington, D.C., Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said there is a "frustrating irony of the government telling us what religion is."
After many groups objected to the mandate, Obama announced that his administration would work with the religious groups to find an appropriate accommodation to their objections. When the final rule was released on Friday, though, it was nearly identical to the original rule.
Moore also appeared frustrated that the administration claimed for over a year, and through an election season, that it would work to resolve the religious objector's complaints, but at the end of the process changed nothing.
"We love and respect our president, President [Barack] Obama, and we have appealed as citizens for the administration to respect conscience rights," Moore explained. "In response, the government has given us word games and accounting tricks that amount to the same mandate, over and over again. We are not easily hypnotized by bureaucratic parlor tricks. Our government has treated free exercise of religion as though it were a tattered house standing in the way of a government construction of a railroad; there to be bought off or plowed out of the way, in the name of progress. We dissent."
Moore was joined at the press conference by Archbishop of Baltimore William Lori; Anne Hendershott, professor of sociology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio; and Yuri Mantilla, associate professor of law at Liberty University School of Law.
The Obama administration may have assumed that the long delays would cause the issue to go away, Moore added, but opponents of the birth control mandate will not give up.
"We're not going to back down on this question," he asserted in response to a reporter's question. "The government has been waiting us out for some time thinking that Roman Catholics, evangelicals and others who are opposed to these things will somehow go away. We're not going away. We're going to continue to speak to this."
The letter currently has about 90 signers, including Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Gary Stevenson, presiding bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Anuttama Dasa, minister of communications for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness; Rabbi Aryeh Spero, president of Caucus for America; Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary; and Tom Minnery, senior vice president of Focus on the Family.