By Bob Allen
More than 60 Protestant and Orthodox Jewish religious leaders wrote the White House Dec. 21 asking President Obama not to implement a mandate requiring all private insurers to provide contraception and sterilization coverage.
Guidelines announced by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Aug. 1 include a religious exemption designed for the Catholic Church, which does not believe in artificial birth control. Catholics say the exemption, which protects seminaries and a few churches, is too narrow to protect the conscience of all Catholics.
Leaders including the Southern Baptist Convention’s Richard Land, however, pointed out that Catholics aren’t alone in their opposition to the proposed regulations.
“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 said.
The Protestant and Jewish leaders said Catholics aren’t the only faith group that opposes the use of contraceptives like the “morning-after” pill, which controls birth by removing an egg after it has been fertilized. They say the “religious employer” exemption is so narrow that it leaves many faith-based organizations unprotected.
“We believe that the federal government is obligated by the First Amendment to accommodate the religious convictions of faith-based organizations of all kinds, Catholic and non-Catholic,” the leaders said. “We respectfully ask that your administration, should it maintain the current contraceptives mandate, devise an exemption for religious employers that accurately defines such employers and exempts them from being required to offer to their employees (and students, if they are among America’s many religious colleges and universities) health services to which they have deep religious objections.”
In addition to Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, signers included Leith Anderson, president of National Association of Evangelicals; Tom Minnery, senior vice president of Focus on the Family; Ron Sider, president, Evangelicals for Social Action; and Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
Signers included presidents of several Christian colleges, including Baptist-affiliated Mississippi College, Judson University, East Texas Baptist University, Bluefield College and Palm Beach Atlantic University. Another signer, Paul Corts, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, followed up with a separate letter Dec. 23 saying the regulations as written would violate the religious beliefs of the 138 member and affiliate schools that participate in the organization.
“It is at best uncertain whether any CCCU schools would fall within the regulation’s extremely anemic religious exemption,” wrote Corts, former president of Baptist-affiliated Palm Beach Atlantic and Wingate universities.
Also troubling, Corts said, is that the exemption is for employer plans and does not appear to include insurance for students. “Even if the exemption were expanded to include all religious employers, the mandate would still violate the consciences of our institutions as it relates to the healthcare plans that they offer their students,” he wrote.