Bob Unruh joined WND in 2006 after nearly three decades with the Associated Press, as well as several Upper Midwest newspapers, where he covered everything from legislative battles and sports to tornadoes and homicidal survivalists. He is also a photographer whose scenic work has been used commercially.More ↓Less ↑
A coalition of faith leaders – ranging from the president of the National Association of Evangelicals to an official for the Church of Scientology – reprimanded President Obama and his health care plan for infringing on the faith of employers by forcing them to provide abortion services to their employees.
“If the federal government can force morally opposed individuals to purchase contraception or abortion-causing drugs and devices for a third party, what prevents this or future administrations from forcing other Americans to betray their deeply held convictions?”
Under Obamacare, employers fund the abortion, contraception and abortifacient demands of their employees under threat of federal government sanctions. The requirement is in the rules for the federal health-care program, which was written with the input of leaders of the nation’s abortion industry.
More than 100 prominent national religious leaders and scholars released the letter, called “Standing Together for Religious Freedom.”
It calls on the Obama administration and Congress to start respecting conscience rights and religious freedom.
“Through its contraceptive coverage mandate, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services continues to breach universal principles affirmed and protected by the U.S. Constitution and other federal laws,” the letter says. “While the mandate is a specific offense, it represents a greater fundamental breach of conscience by the federal government.
“Very simply, HHS is forcing Citizen A, against his or her moral convictions, to purchase a product for Citizen B. The HHS policy is coercive and puts the administration in the position of defining – or casting aside – religious doctrine.
“This should trouble every American.”
The letter, released in both English and Spanish, was signed by NAE chief Leith Anderson, Bishop Gary Stevenson of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Bishop Andrew of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church of America, Randall Bach of Open Bible Churches, Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention, Susan Taylor of the Church of Scientology, John Ashmen of the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religious and Democracy, William Estrada of the Home School Legal Defense Association, John Garvey of the Catholic University of America, David Nammo of the Christian Legal Society and dozens more.
The leaders write that while there are differences of opinion on theological issues, they all believe that their faith convictions “manifest themselves through our daily interactions among family, neighbors, strangers and institutions.”
That means, they write, “the doctrines of our respective faiths require something of us beyond the walls of our churches, synagogues, temples, and other places of worship.”
“We stand united in protest to this mandate, recognizing the encroachment on the conscience of our fellow citizens,” the letter continues. “HHS continues to deny many Americans the freedom to manifest their beliefs through practice and observance in their daily lives.”
The leaders charge Obama is violating the First Amendment.
It states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
“Free exercise includes the freedom to order one’s life, liberties and pursuits in accordance with his or her convictions,” the letter says.
One of the dozens of organizations suing the government over the issue, Belmont Abbey College, said it would not follow the government’s mandates no matter what.
President William K. Thierfelder told WND: “We cannot go against our faith, and we are not going to do it. We will never accept something that is antithetical to what we believe. I think all of us have to have the commitment the martyrs [had]. Not that we are going to be martyrs, but we have to have that kind of commitment. Sometimes the faith is bolstered by persecution.”
In addition to Belmont Abbey, others that have brought legal actions include Hobby Lobby, Wheaton College, East Texas Baptist University, Houston Baptist University, Colorado Christian University, the Eternal Word Television Network and Ave Maria University. More than five dozen legal actions are pending.
The HHS mandate is unprecedented in the country’s history of religious freedom.
“We’re not aware of any other time in American history when the government has given religious believers such a stark choice between following their consciences and paying millions of dollars in fines,” said Adele Auxier Keim, legal counsel and one of the attorneys in Belmont’s case.
According to Keim, balance is the key.
“If the government wants to put a burden on religious practice, they have to prove that it advances a compelling interest, and that it is the least restrictive means of advancing that interest,” she said.
“The government can’t meet that balancing test when it’s already exempted other organizations for secular reasons,” she said. “HHS has exempted health plans covering 87 million Americans for political reasons, in order to keep President Obama’s promise they could keep the health plan they already had.
“But, HHS has refused to exempt a single [for-profit] business from the mandate for religious reasons,” said Keim.
WND also reported the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver significantly said Hobby Lobby would continue to be protected from paying the mandate fees or fines until its lawsuit is resolved.
The district court previously refused to allow the injunction, and even Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor told the company owners to start paying for abortifacients for their employees, in direct violation of their faith.
But the appellate judges ruled the store company has “established a likelihood of success that their rights under this statute are substantially burdened by the contraceptive-coverage requirement, and have established an irreparable harm.”
The judges said the government did not satisfy the requirement to show that any burden on the religious exercise of the plaintiffs was overridden by some “compelling” government interest or that it was imposed in the least intrusive way possible.
The court pointedly noted that Obama’s administration already has exempted “tens of millions of people” from the same mandate, so to exempt Hobby Lobby hardly would create an impact.
Just a week earlier, a coalition of Christian organizations warned that the U.S. Supreme Court does not have the power to redefine the institution of marriage, which predates government, churches and even religion.
The statement came just before the court release its rulings on the Proposition 8 case in California and the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
In both cases, the judges took a politically progressive and activist stance, allowing the advance of homosexual “marriage.”
“Make no mistake about our resolve. While there are many things we can endure, redefining marriage is so fundamental to the natural order and the true common good that this is the line we must draw and one we cannot and will not cross,” they say.
The group includes Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant clergy and leaders.