Church leaders release open letter on religious liberty

By Adriane Dorr

Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison testified at a congressional hearing against the Obama mandate that requires religious institutions and individuals of conscience pay for health insurance plans that cover medical procedures and drugs contrary to their religious beliefs and conscience.

In the aftermath of the recent U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) contentious mandate regarding religious organizations’ coverage of contraceptive services, more than 20 religious leaders have signed their names to a letter — drafted by LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison and released June 21 — in support of religious liberty.

Titled “Free Exercise of Religion: Putting Beliefs into Practice,” the document upholds Americans’ right to religious freedom, encourages the exercise of religious liberty in the public square and speaks in opposition to “the application of the contraceptive mandate to religious institutions.”

“We drafted this letter because there are moments in history where one needs to speak and stand for basic principle,” Harrison said. “The time to confess is now. We don’t know what tomorrow might bring. We have been too silent as our nation has continued to slip into the morass of relativism.”

Speaking more broadly, the letter also asks Americans to be “united in the conviction that no religious institution should be penalized for refusing to go against its beliefs,” affirming that “No government should tell religious organizations either what to believe or how to put their beliefs into practice.”

Prepared in advance of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) — the federal government’s much-discussed health-care reform legislation — the letter “pleads for … the retraction” of the HHS mandate, which is included in the PPACA statute [1]. A ruling from the Supreme Court on the PPACA was expected within days of the letter’s release.

Support of the letter has been far-reaching. In addition to Harrison, signatories include the Most Rev. William E. Lori, archbishop of Baltimore and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Leaders from the Orthodox Church in America, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, the Hispanic Evangelical Association, the General Council of the Assemblies of God, the Islamic Society of Washington Area and others also have signed their names to the letter.

In Lutheran circles, signatories include leaders of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the Concordia Deaconess Conference and the North American Lutheran Church.

Harrison says he is encouraged by the display of support from fellow religious leaders. “We are entering, what I believe, will be a long and supremely challenging time for the church to be the church,” he said. “Take heart. Jesus Himself says, ‘The gates of hell shall not prevail.'”

To read “Free Exercise of Religion: Putting Beliefs into Practice” in its entirety — and watch a related video — go to www.lcms.org/president.

Adriane Dorr is managing editor of The Lutheran Witness. Reprinted, with permission, from Reporter Online (reporter.lcms.org), the national newspaper of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

[1] The exact parameters of the birth-control mandate are not spelled out in the statute, but are the Obama Administration’s initial use of broad authority conferred by a provision of the statute.