Catholics, Baptists join in HHS protest

“Here we stand; we can do no other,” SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission head Russell Moore says of religious objections to Obamacare.

By Bob Allen

The Obama administration unwittingly created an unlikely coalition opposed to a rule requiring employers to provide free insurance coverage of contraceptives for women, the Southern Baptist Convention’s top spokesman for moral concerns said at a July 2 press conference in Washington.

“The Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate has catalyzed this coalition,” Russell Moore, president of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said at a National Press Club briefing that his agency co-sponsored with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The event included release of an open letter from leaders of denominations and faiths including Southern Baptists, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and Orthodox Christian and Jewish leaders who view the contraceptive mandate as a threat to religious liberty.

russell moore“Americans are planning to gather this week, for cookouts and picnics and fireworks, to mark yet another Independence Day,” Moore said. “We, a broad coalition of religious leaders, mark this Independence Day week by calling our government back to our first freedom, the free exercise of religion.”

On June 28 the White House released final rules that require coverage of preventive health services including contraceptives for women. The rule exempts house of worship and other nonprofit religious organizations but not for-profit business owners who oppose the mandate on religious grounds.

“We in the Catholic Church have never seen such a distinction between what we do within the four walls of a church and how we serve our neighbors,” said Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the bishops’ ad hoc committee for religious liberty. “The faith by which we worship on Sunday is the very same faith by which we act in the world the other six days of the week.”

Moore said the issue is not contraception or abortion, but rather the “callous disregard our government has shown for the freedom of Americans to exercise their religious convictions.” He compared it to his Baptist forbears objecting to the state licensing preachers to preach.

The open letter says that while the current offense is the contraceptive mandate, the issue is much larger.

“Very simply, HHS is forcing Citizen A, against his or her moral convictions, to purchase a product for Citizen B,” the letter reads in part. “The HHS policy is coercive and puts the administration in the position of defining -- or casting aside -- religious doctrine. This should trouble every American.”

Finalized after a period for open comment, the final rules “strike the appropriate balance between respecting the religious considerations raised by nonprofit religious organizations and increasing access to important preventive services for women,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Moore, however, accused the White House of responding to appeals of conscience with “word games and accounting tricks that amount to the same mandate, over and over again.”

“We are not so easily hypnotized by bureaucratic parlor tricks,” Moore said. “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.”

In closing, Moore said: “The Archbishop will please forgive me if I quote Martin Luther, who stirred no little controversy between our traditions some time ago. Nonetheless, I think we can all agree on his words as they apply to the audacity of the federal government in curtailing religious freedom. To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here we stand; we can do no other. God help us.”

The new rules, mandated by the 2010 Affordable Care Act, were set to take effect in 2014. On Tuesday the White House announced it will delay until 2015 enforcing a requirement that businesses with more than 50 employees provide health insurance to their workers or pay a penalty, giving owners more time to comply.