Bishop, Baptist, Other Religious Leaders Call US to Respect Freedom

Open Letter Urges Protection of Conscience Rights

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A US bishops’ official joined with an official from the Southern Baptist Convention and other religious leaders to call the US government to respect conscience rights and religious freedom.

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, Russell D. Moore, Ph.D., president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and a wide variety of over 100 prominent national religious leaders and scholars released an open letter July 2 entitled Standing Together for Religious Freedom. The letter calls on the Administration and Congress to respect conscience rights and religious freedom.

The open letter highlights the threat to conscience posed by the Administration’s mandate that almost all employers cover contraception, sterilization and abortifacient drugs and devices in their health insurance plans. As the signatories write, freedom of religion goes beyond mere freedom of worship and extends to believers’ roles as citizen and employer.

«The doctrines of our respective faiths require something of us beyond the walls of our churches, synagogues, temples, and other places of worship,» the signers said. «Those faith convictions manifest themselvesthrough our daily interactions among family, neighbors, strangers and institutions.»

At a press conference today at the National Press Club in Washington to release the open letter, Archbishop Lori noted the magnitude of church leaders’ concerns: «As the Catholic bishops have said from the very beginning, the underlying issue with the HHS Mandate is not about any specific teaching. In fact, other signatories on the letter do not share our view on contraception and probably disagree with us in many other ways, but they understand the core religious freedom issue at stake here.»

Along with Archbishop Lori and Dr. Moore, speakers at the press conference included Anne Hendershott, Ph.D., professor of sociology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, and Yuri Mantilla, Ph.D., chairman of the Justice Initiative of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

Signers of the open letter include leaders from a broad spectrum of religious groups, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Orthodox Christian and Jewish leaders, as well as scholars and heads of faith-based institutions and civil rights organizations.

The letter calls on HHS to, «at a minimum, expand conscience protections under the mandate to cover any organization or individual that has religious or moral objections to covering, providing or enabling access to the mandated drugs and services.»The letter also asks Congress to consider how it can act to prevent offenses to religious freedom.

The final ruling was issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ on June 28.

The 110-page ruling on its health care mandate requires time for analysis, said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Cardinal Dolan also expressed gratitude for a five-month extension on implementing the complex proposal (The effective date of the rule had been set for August 1, 2013, but the June 28 ruling moves the date to Jan. 1, 2014, for some nonprofit entities.)

«We have received and started to review the 110-page final rule on the HHS mandate,» Cardinal Dolan said.

«We appreciate the extension of the effective date by five months, which is readily apparent in the rule,» he said. «The remainder of the rule is long and complex. It will require more careful analysis.We will provide a fuller statement when that analysis is complete.»

The HHS mandate requires that almost all employers, even those with moral objections to contraception, abortion and sterilization, provide employees contraceptives, including those that cause abortion, and sterilization, free of charge as part of services for women under the new health care law.

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The full letter is available online:

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