“Unilaterally redefining what it means to be religious”: Religious leaders and scholars express their resistance to Obama Mandate at Congressional Hearing

By Dave Andrusko

Timothy Cardinal Dolan

As we have for the past two weeks, today we have a number of stories illustrating the mounting resistance to President Obama’s intolerable mandate requiring religiously-affiliated universities, hospitals, and charities to pay for health insurance that covers sterilization and contraception.

In the following, I’ve included excerpts from the written testimony of religious leaders and scholars diametrically opposed to the mandate who testified before House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The question the committee was attempting to answer was “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State: Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?”

Bishop William E. Lori

As you will quickly see, all the witnesses placed the mandate in its proper context: It is an unprecedented  assault on religious liberty that cannot be allowed to stand. In addition, what came through loud and clear is that while most attention is devoted to the Catholic Church’s resistance, this is an issue that transcends religious boundaries.

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Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

Furthermore, we believe and teach that freedom of religion extends beyond mere houses of worship. We must be able to exercise our faith in the public square and, in response to Christ’s call, demonstrate His mercy through our love and compassion for all people according to the clear teachings of Holy Scripture.

We deem this recent government mandate as an infringement upon the  beliefs and practices of various religious communities. Therefore, we voice  our public objections in solidarity with those who cherish their religious liberties. The decision by the U.S. Department of Health and Human  Services to require virtually all health plans to comply with this mandate will have the effect of forcing many religious organizations to choose between following the letter of the law or operating within the framework of their religious tenets.

We add our voice to the long list of those who have  championed their God-given right to freely exercise their religious beliefs according to the dictates of their faith, and to provide compassionate care and clear Christian witness to so.

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C. Ben Mitchell, Ph.D., Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy, Union University

The policy is an unconscionable intrusion by the state into the consciences of American citizens. Contrary to portrayals in some of the popular media, this is not only a Catholic issue. All people of faith—and even those who claim no faith—have a stake in whether or not the government can violate the consciences of its citizenry.

Religious liberty and the freedom to obey one’s conscience is also not just a Baptist issue. It is an American issue that is enshrined in our founding documents. The Obama Administration’s most recent so-called “accommodation” for religious organizations is no accommodation at all. It is a bait and switch scheme of the most egregious sort.

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Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, Director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought, Yeshiva University

In refusing to extend religious liberty beyond the parameters of what the administration chooses to deem religious conduct, the administration denies people of faith the ability to define their religious activity. Therefore, not only does the new regulation threaten religious liberty in the narrow sense, in requiring Catholic communities to violate their religious tenets, but also the administration impedes religious liberty by unilaterally redefining what it means to be religious.

Craig Mitchell, Ph.D., Associate Director of the Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

When Thomas Jefferson talked about a wall of separation between church and state, he was opposing persecution of people for their beliefs, but that is exactly what this mandate does. This mandate, in the name of health care, seems designed to offend those who have religiously informed moral sensibilities.  Simply put, this mandate forces people to violate their consciences. A government that will force its citizens to violate their consciences has stepped over a critical boundary.

If the purpose of government is to serve its people, then this rule is wrong. The arguments used to defend this mandate are no different from the old argument that says “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”

It is the church that was responsible for the creation of hospitals. The church was also responsible for much of the development of healthcare. With this kind of history, it is ironic that the religious organizations should have their rights crushed in the name of health care. If this is allowed to stand then there is nothing that the U.S. government cannot compel its citizens to do.

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John H. Garvey, President, The Catholic University of America

In other words there is no real difference between the January 20 and February 10 policies.  In both cases the cost of mandated services will be rolled into the cost of an insurance policy which federal law requires the University to buy. The only real change is that the insurance company, rather than the University, notifies subscribers that the policy covers mandated services with no co-pay.

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Dr. William K. Thierfelder, President, Belmont Abbey College

The administration offered what it seemed to think was a nice gesture on January 20th , when it gave those religious organizations that do not qualify for the exemption an extra year to comply. An extra year to learn how to violate our conscience and betray our deepest religious principles.

I’ve explained this as akin to being told, “We know you use oxygen to breathe, so we’re going to  give you an extra year to figure out how to breathe without it, and we hope by then you’ve adapted.” Our religious beliefs and principles – and our freedom to express them without government interference – are as importance to us as the air we breathe. They are not something we are prepared to abandon in a year’s time because the government says we have to.

…Our nation’s founders believed strongly in the important place of religious institutions in American society and the need for those institutions to remain independent of governmental control. Religious freedom was enshrined in the First Amendment, guaranteeing the right for freedom of belief and freedom of exercise.

But now, religious institutions are being pushed out of the public sphere, our practices increasingly regulated by government policies. The right of individuals and groups to hold certain religious beliefs and live our lives according to those beliefs is being eroded.

Belmont Abbey College and the Becket Fund are not simply fighting a contraception mandate; we are fighting to maintain our inalienable right to freedom of religion, the first freedom. When we lose the freedom to believe we has lost all freedom.

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Dr. Samuel W.  Oliver, President, East Texas Baptist University

If the government is allowed to go down this road, where will it end?

To close, perhaps the most frightening aspect of this entire episode for East Texas Baptist University is that we have no idea when this road will end. Today, the Administration is trying to force us to provide our employees with abortion causing drugs. And it tries to avoid the obvious constitutional problems with this mandate by deciding that we are somehow not religious enough for protection. 

If the government can force Catholic monks to dispense birth control, what can’t it do? If the government can decide that East Texas Baptist University is not religious enough to  have the right to religious liberty, what can’t it do?  If this administration can just decide that religious beliefs are less important than its chosen policy goals, what can’t it do?

These questions are frightening. And that is why religious organizations and people of will from all across the spectrum are joining together out of concern that this mandate threatens to erode one of our most precious rights, our religious liberty, guaranteed to us by the First Amendment. I urge this Committee and Congress to act to ensure that protection for those of us at East Texas Baptist University, and for all Americans.

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Dr. Allison Dabbs Garrett, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs,
Oklahoma Christian University

All the Administration has offered to do is to discuss the issue further.  The Administration has said that insurance companies rather than the plan sponsors will offer [the mandated services] at no cost.  This may provide palliative care for the conscience for a few, but it does not provide any assistance to those institutions with self-funded plans.

The assurance of the Administration that it would work with religious organizations that sponsor self-funded plans in the coming days to reach a compromise is too little assurance on too great a matter.  And this suggestion does nothing to alleviate the  concerns of institutions sponsoring self-funded plans.

In making his announcement, the President said, “Let me repeat: These employers will not have to pay for or provide contraceptive services, but women who work at these institutions will have access to free contraceptive services just like other women.”  The President’s announcement fails to recognize the realities of the insurance marketplace.  The payment for the contraceptives must come from somewhere and it will not be from insurance companies’ profit margins.  Rather, plan sponsors and participants will end up footing the bill through higher overall rates.  Whether paid directly or indirectly, the moral issue remains the same for plan sponsors and for many plan participants.

Laura Champion, M.D.
Medical Director
Calvin College Health Services

Recently the White House purported to offer an accommodation—perhaps the most fundamental flaw of which is that religious liberties are not something that any president has the legal authority to recognize or deny. As Christians, we believe these rights come from God, and as US citizens, we believe our Constitution affirms and guarantees our right to religious liberty.

There is a limit to what government can compel us to do or not do particularly in matters of faith and conscience. It is in the best interest of all Americans, of every ideological stripe, that this limit, this line, not be crossed.

This is not about politics, this is not about contraception, and this is not about depriving women of health care.  Rather, this is personal.  This is about my daily life as a physician, a Christian, and a Medical Services Director.  Whether I will be able as a physician to practice medicine within my belief system.  Whether Calvin College will be able to continue its historic tradition of living out the faith it teaches. 

A government that is of the people, by the people, and for the people,should not force the people to violate their consciences. I oppose this mandate for the reasons and rationale above.  I respectfully request your help so that Calvin College does not have to violate its religious beliefs

Editor’s note. The written statements in their entirety appear at http://oversight.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1598%3A2-16-12-qlines-crossed-separation-of-church-and-state-has-the-obama-administration-trampled-on-freedom-of-religion-and-freedom-of-conscienceq&catid=12&Itemid=20

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