Religious liberty being infringed upon: American religious leaders
U.S.A. - Twenty-five leaders of American religious organizations released an open letter on religious freedom June 21, 2012. Entitled “Free Exercise of Religion: Putting Beliefs into Practice,” the letter highlights the leaders’ continuing concerns over new contraceptive regulations introduced by the American government. “As religious leaders from a variety of perspectives and communities,” the letter reads, “we are compelled to make known our protest against the incursion of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) into the realm of religious liberty.”
Earlier this year, the HHS released new contraceptive policies which require employers to fund contraceptive coverage for their employees. While churches were exempted from the new policy, a number of para-church organizations (including religious hospitals and universities) were not. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, objected, arguing that they ought not to be forced to pay for services which violate their religious convictions; the church officially teaches that the use of contraceptives is sinful. Other groups protested they would be forced to pay for abortifacients (drugs such as the “Morning-after pill,” which are believed to induce abortions after conception) despite their pro-life views. The government, critics agreed, was infringing on religious liberty.
That remains the major concern in the letter released last week. “No government should tell religious organizations either what to believe or how to put their beliefs into practice,” it reads. “If freedom of religion is a constitutional value to be protected, then institutions developed by religious groups to implement their core beliefs in education, in care for the sick or suffering, and in other tasks must also be protected.” To that end, the authors write, “we oppose the application of the contraceptive mandate to religious institutions and plead for its retraction.”
The letter was drafted by President Matthew Harrison of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. The other twenty-four signatories represent a wide range of American religious groups, including the National Association of Evangelicals; the Little Sisters of the Poor; The Christian and Missionary Alliance U.S.; the Fellowship of International Churches; the Evangelical Lutheran Synod; the North American Lutheran Church; the Orthodox Church in America; the Concordia Deaconess Conference; the Roman Catholic Church; the Hispanic Evangelical Association; the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; the Islamic Society of Washington Area; the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Michigan; the Sisters of Life; the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod; the Department of Religion of Saint Francis Health System; the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America; and The General Council of the Assemblies of God.
The letter follows on the heels of another letter released earlier this month on the same subject. On June 11, a letter signed by 149 religious leaders was released, petitioning the American government to broaden the mandate’s exemption to to include all religious organizations—not just churches, but also religious charities, educational insitutes, and hospitals. “We deny that it is within the jurisdiction of the federal government to define, in place of religious communities, what constitutes true religion and authentic ministry,” they write. “We are united in opposition to the creation in federal law of two classes of religious organizations: churches—considered sufficiently focused inwardly to merit an exemption and thus full protection from the mandate; and faith-based service organizations—outwardly oriented and given a lesser degree of protection.” The letter includes signatories from a number of denominations, relief agencies, colleges, universities, and seminaries, including such major organizations as the American Bible Society, Christianity Today, and World Vision.