A letter signed by 61 non-Catholic faith leaders was sent to President Obama Wednesday expressing solidarity with Catholic concerns over government regulations mandating the provision of contraceptive services and a narrowly-written “religious employer” exemption.
“We write to you specifically as organizations and leaders that are not part of the Catholic community. We write not in opposition to Catholic leaders and organizations; rather, we write in solidarity, but separately – to stress that religious organizations and leaders of other faiths are also deeply troubled by and opposed to the mandate and the narrow exemption,” the letter states.
The letter was driven partly out of concern that, due to press reports on the issue, the White House might be under the impression that only Catholic leaders are concerned about the contraception mandate and narrow employer exemption, according to Stanley Carlson-Thies, president of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, in a Wednesday interview with The Christian Post.
Additionally, the letter seeks to alert non-Catholics that the issue affects everyone because it limits religious freedom, and could set a precedent for further limitations.
At issue is a proposed mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services that would require any organization that provides health services to provide contraceptive services, including some abortifacients. There is an exemption for religious groups written into the law, but the exemption is written so narrowly that Christian schools, hospitals and parachurch organizations would not qualify.
Most of the letter's signers are presidents of Christian colleges and members of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. CCCU has been one of the leading voices bringing attention to the issue. Christian colleges have a particular interest in the issue, Carlson-Thies said, because their health clinics would have to provide contraceptives and abortifacients to their students for free, in opposition to their own policies.
Also, the narrowly written religious exemption is part of a trend to argue that religious freedom just protects religious worship and not other types of religious activities. Some religious groups, for instance, view caring for the poor as much of their religious duty as worshipping God. Some, however, suggest that provision for the poor as an act of religious service is not protected under the religious freedom clauses of the First Amendment.
Additionally, parachurch organizations – religious groups that operate outside of what is considered a standard religious denomination – are viewed by some as without religious freedom protections.
“Some activists want to make parachurch organizations equivalent to secular organizations on the theory that, after all, they aren't Church, it isn't religion, so they all have to follow public, meaning government, standards,” Carlson-Thies said.
In the event that the contraception mandate remains in place, the letter asks President Obama to expand the religious exemption to include the full range of religious employers, such as religious schools, health service providers and parachurch organizations.
“Mr. President,” the letter concludes, “religious organizations beyond the Catholic community have deep moral objections to a requirement that their health insurance plans must cover abortifacients. Religious organizations beyond the Catholic community object to the current narrow exemption which puts them outside the definition of 'religious employers.' And religious organizations beyond the Catholic community object to any revision of the exemption that would limit it to churches and denominationally affiliated organizations.”
Other signers of the letter include: Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Jim Liske, CEO of Prison Fellowship Ministries; Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (and Executive Editor for The Christian Post); Stephanie Summers, CEO of the Center for Public Justice; Ron Sider, pesident of Evangelicals for Social Action; and Stephen Monsma, senior research fellow at Calvin College's The Henry Institute.