And The Winner Is
HHS Mandate

Freedom of Worship or Freedom of Religion: Just Semantics?

Perhaps you have noticed the criticism of the Obama administration, including the president himself, for substituting the phrase "freedom of worship" for "freedom of religion"?

It's difficult to know whether this rhetoric is carefully chosen to indicate a more restrictive interpretation of religious liberty in this country. Without the HHS mandate for health insurance contraceptives and the aggressive campaign to redefine the meaning of marriage, the rhetorical shift might not even be noticed. However, while freedom of worship is surely crucial to religious liberty, so is the freedom to practice the principles of one's faith outside the walls of a religious building. The Fornight for Freedom campaign aims to protect that freedom.

For the past nine days, Holy Cross parishioners have recited the Prayer for Religious Liberty after all our masses. We have also been conducting a campaign for signatures to express opposition to the HHS mandate that religious employers provide health care insurance for morally objectionable medications and procedures.

On July 2nd over 100 religious leaders and scholars released a letter entitled "Standing Together for Religious Freedom." The statement was supported by Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore and Dr. Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission among others. 

Here is the text of the open letter:

We write as an informal and diverse group of religious leaders, theologians, lay practitioners and community servants. We believe the doctrines of our respective faiths require something of us beyond the walls of our churches, synagogues, temples, and other places of worship. Those faith convictions manifest themselves through our daily interactions among family, neighbors, strangers and institutions.

 Further, we recognize the United States, at its best, is unique among the nations of the world when it defends the self­ evident freedom of all people to exercise their faith according to the dictates of their consciences. This freedom contributes to the vibrancy of our nation. Unfortunately, this delicate liberty of conscience is under threat. 

Through its contraceptive coverage mandate, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) continues to breach universal principles affirmed and protected by the U.S. Constitution and other federal laws. 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 de.fining-or casting aside-religious doctrine. This should trouble every American.

 Many of the signatories on this letter do not hold doctrinal objections to the use of contraception. Yet we stand united in protest to this mandate, recognizing the encroachment on the conscience of our fellow citizens. Whether or not we agree with the particular conscientious objection is beside the point. HHS continues to deny many Americans the freedom to manifest their beliefs through practice and observance in their daily lives.

The First Amendment 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. HHS breaches the free exercise clause and federal statutes (passed with broad bipartisan support) by selectively denying some Americans this constitutionally protected right.

 Americans afford each other broad liberties with respect to lifestyle choices. However, the federal government has neither a compelling interest nor the appropriate authority to coerce one citizen to fund or facilitate specific lifestyle choices of another. Ifthe 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?

Therefore, we call upon 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. Further, because HHS claims to be acting on authority granted it by Congress, we ask Congress to consider how it might prevent such offenses from occurring in the future. Any policy that falls short of affirming full religious freedom protection for all Americans is unacceptable.

Full Text in English and Spanish with Signatories is here.