(Photo: Georgetown University/Sarah Gormley)
WASHINGTON – Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., showed a heightened interest and concern for religious freedom in the United States at a Tuesday event hosted by the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs in Washington, D.C. Warren spoke about the Department of Health and Human Services' birth control mandate and other religious freedom issues.
Religious freedom is not just the freedom to worship, Warren explained, it is also the freedom to practice one's faith. One-third of Jesus' ministry was health care (through healing), Warren noted. Plus, the Church has been involved in health care for 2,000 years and even invented the hospital.
The birth control mandate, though, requires all employers to cover contraception, sterilization and abortifacient drugs in their employees' health insurance plans. There is a religious exemption, but it is so narrow that most religious organizations, including Catholic hospitals, are not exempt. They will be required to pay for services in opposition to the teachings of their faith. Catholic leaders have complained that the Obama administration is requiring them to choose between violating their faith and carrying out the duties of their faith to care for the poor and sick.
Warren's concerns about religious freedom grew partly out of his work in developing countries. In most of the world, Warren said, social services, such as health care and job training programs, are commonly provided by churches. If the Catholic Church were taken out of Africa, 27 percent of the continent's health care would also be removed, he explained to the audience at Georgetown, a Catholic university.
"The audacity of the government telling the Church how to do health care – we've been doing it longer than any government!" Warren complained.
Even though he is not opposed to the use of contraceptives, he said he stands "in 100 percent solidarity with my Catholic brothers and sisters to practice what they believe."
He also noted that his church's health clinic would be required, if the birth control mandate remains in place, to cover abortifacients in its health plan, even though he believes abortion is immoral.
Christians need to repent, Warren added, for not standing up for the religious freedom of non-Christians in the past, such as when there were attempts to ban a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn. He noted that he also opposes attempts to ban Muslims from wearing head scarves in schools and Jews from being able to circumcise their children. If there were an attempt to require Jewish deli's to carry pork, Warren said, he "would be out front, picketing with that rabbi, willing to go to jail with that rabbi."
This would not be the first time Warren has spoken forcefully about his religious freedom concerns. In an April 2012 interview on ABC's "This Week," he also spoke out against the birth control mandate, for instance.
Recently, though, Warren has shown a desire to speak out more on this issue. Last month, he wrote a statement defending Hobby Lobby in its legal battles against the birth control mandate. In that statement he predicted that religious freedom "will likely become the civil rights movement of this decade." On Tuesday, he announced that he will begin a radio show in April in which he will talk more about religious freedom. And in June, he is planning a "National Congress on Religious Freedom" with about 50 speakers.
Eric Teetsel, executive director of the Manhattan Declaration, an advocacy organization that promotes religious freedom, was at the speech and impressed with what he heard.
"America's most influential evangelical pastor has taken an unequivocal position on the importance of preserving our first freedom, the freedom of religion. My hope is that Warren's leadership will inspire many more evangelical pastors to be courageous voices on this crucial issue," Teetsel told The Christian Post.
Warren credited much of his thinking on religious freedom to Christian author and speaker Os Guinness, who wrote a recent book about liberty. Guinness was also in the audience and spoke to The Christian Post.
Warren has a unique vantage point from which to speak about religious liberty, Guinness explained, because of his "wealth of experience" gained from the many social welfare ministries he has been involved in. "And, you can see today, the [Obama]administration is killing the goose that lays the golden egg."
A video of the presentation can be viewed at the Georgetown University website.