In a religious freedom/liberty conflict among religious
employers, employees, and students, who wins?
A multi-faith open letter opposing the
mandate titled: "Free Exercise of Religion"
Additional reactions to the HHS mandate:
An open letter concerning the "Free Exercise of Religion:" Leaders of Roman Catholicism, fundamentalist and other evangelical groups, one mainline Protestant denomination, one Orthodox group, and one Muslim group have signed an open letter to all Americans subtitled "Putting Beliefs into Practice." It states:
Religious institutions are established because of religious beliefs and convictions. Such institutions include not only churches,
synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship, but also schools and colleges, shelters and community kitchens, adoption
agencies and hospitals, organizations that provide care and services during natural disasters, and countless other organizations
that exist to put specific religious beliefs into practice. Many such organizations have provided services and care to both members
and non-members of their religious communities since before the Revolutionary War, saving and improving the lives of countless
As religious leaders from a variety of perspectives and communities, 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. HHS has
mandated that religious institutions, with only a narrow religious exception, must provide access to certain contraceptive benefits,
even if the covered medications or procedures are contradictory to their beliefs. We who oppose the application of this mandate to
religious institutions include not only the leaders of religious groups morally opposed to contraception, but also leaders of other
religious groups that do not share that particular moral conviction.
That we share an opposition to the mandate to religious institutions while disagreeing about specific moral teachings is a crucial
fact. Religious freedom is the principle on which we stand. Because of differing understandings of moral and religious authority,
people of good will can and often do come to different conclusions about moral questions. Yet, even we who hold differing
convictions on specific moral issues are united in the conviction that no religious institution should be penalized for refusing to go
against its beliefs. The issue is the First Amendment, not specific moral teachings or specific products or services.
The HHS mandate implicitly acknowledged that an incursion into religion is involved in the mandate. However, the narrowness
of the proposed exemption is revealing for it applies only to religious organizations that serve or support their own members. In
so doing, the government is establishing favored and disfavored religious organizations: a privatized religious organization that
serves only itself is exempted from regulation, while one that believes it should also serve the public beyond its membership is
denied a religious exemption. The so-called accommodation and the subsequent Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM)
do little or nothing to alleviate the problem.
No government should tell religious organizations either what to believe or how to put their beliefs into practice. We indeed hold
this to be an unalienable, constitutional right. 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. Only by doing so can the free exercise of religion have any meaning. The HHS mandate prevents this free
exercise. For the well-being of our country, we oppose the application of the contraceptive mandate to religious institutions and
plead for its retraction.
The letter was signed by representatives of:
- 11 representatives of Roman Catholic groups:
- Sr. Loraine Marie Maguire, Little Sisters of the Poor.
- The Most Rev. Robert J Carlson, Archbishop of St. Louis
- Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York, President of the USCCB
- Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, The Sisters of Life.
- Sr. Barbara Anne Gooding, Saint Francis Health System
- Sr. Margaret Reginal Halloran, Little Sisters of the Poor.
- The Most Rev. William E. Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore & USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.
- Sr. Maria Christine Lynch, Little Sisters of the Poor.
- Sr. JosephMarie Ruessmann, Religious Sisters of Mercy.
- The Rev. Mark Schroeder, Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
- Sr. Constance Carolyn Veit, Little Sisters of the Poor.
- 9 representatives of conservative Protestant groups:
- Leith Anderson of the National Association of Evangelicals.
- Gary M Benedict of The Christian and Missionary Alliance U.S.
- Bishop John F. Bradosky, North American Lutheran Church.
- The Rev. D.r Matthew C. Harrison, The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod.
- Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr., Fellowship of International Churches.
- The Rev. John A Moldstad, Evangelical Lutheran Synod
- Deaconess Cheryl D. Naumann, The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod.
- The Rev. Samuel Rodriguex, Hispanic Evangelical Association.
- Dr. George O. Wood, Assemblies of God.
- 1 representative of a mainline Protestant group:
- L. Roy Taylor, Presbyterian Church in America.
- 3 representatives of the Orthodox Church in America:
- The Very Rev. Dr. John A Jillions, Chancellor.
- The Most Blessed Jonah, Archbishop of Washington.
- The Very Rev. Leonid Kiskovsky, Director of External Affairs & Interchurch Relations
- 1 representative of a Muslim group:
- Imam Faizul R. Khan, Islamic Society of Washington Area. 1
Analysis of the Open Letter:
The letter discusses religious liberty and freedom, a topic that includes religious beliefs, religious assembly, religious practice, moral and ethical decisions, etc. It was a reaction to the HHS mandate that requires health insurance plans to include of contraceptive devices, medication and services in health insurance plans. Unfortunately, the authors of this letter discuss religious liberty only from the standpoint of religious employers; they do not consider the freedom and liberty of the employees.
Religious freedom is important. It is often called the "first freedom." It is guaranteed in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. However, it is not absolute. For example, some Christians interpret the Bible as requiring parents to beat their children severely when they misbehave. Yet the state intrudes by prohibiting severe abuse thus limiting the parents' freedom of religious action even though they are directly related to religious beliefs. Simlarly, some Christians interpret the Bible as requiring believers to pray for healing when they or a member of their family is ill. Parents have been prosecuted for depriving their sick children of access to a physician in favor of using prayer.
In the case of contraceptive coverage, the religious liberty of employers directly conflict with the religious liberty of the employees. The basic question then is: in the event of conflict where no compromise is possible, whose religious freedom and liberty will be honored; whose will be restricted? Alternately, will it be necessary that both groups be restricted to some degree?
The fundamental question is: who gets to control the fertility of the employee and by what means is the fertility to be controlled: the employer or the employee.
Morality and ethics have traditionally been considered one component of religious faith. On the topic of contraception supplies and services:
- Some religious employers are affilated with one of the vast majority of faith groups that considers the use of contraceptives to be a personal moral choice for each individual. There is little opportunity for conflict here, because both employer and employee view contraceptive use as a personal decision by each employee.
- The Roman Catholic Church is one of the few faith groups that regards the use of birth control pills as profoundly immoral and potentially a mortal sin with negative eternal consequences to the employees' soul. Their use is forbidden, whether they are needed to treat one of many medical problems unrelated to conception, or used to prevent pregnancy.
- Many, probably most, of the employees of Catholic colleges, schools, hospitals, agencies, etc. either currently use contraceptives or have used them in the past.
- Some employees are Catholics. If they are typical of Catholic women nationally, then 98% of female employees will have used contraception methods in the past that are banned by the church ; 70% are currently using them. 2
- Others -- perhaps most -- employees will be non-Catholic. The incidence of use of contraceptives is probably similar to that of Catholics.
The consequences of not being able to use contraceptives -- whether they are banned by the employer, or simply too expensive to purchase -- is serious. About 48% of unintended pregancies are terminated by abortion. If, as the Catholic Church teaches, one believes that human personhood begins at conception, then abortions involve the killing of a human being -- a homicide. In the remaining 52% of the unexpected pregnancies, the woman must proceed with what might be an unwanted pregnancy with potential negative consequences, both physical and emotional.
A case can be made that the employee's religious liberty and freedom should be given priority in this case. After all, the HHS mandate to include contraceptive devices, medication, and procedures really involves only the employee and the insurance company. The employee chooses; the insurance company pays. The employer is not involved with the mandate. The employer does not have to fund the contraceptives for the employee. The cost of each insurance policy will be the same whether the employee chooses to use contraceptives or not. The employer will probably not even be aware of the employee's decision.
How you may have arrived here:
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "Open Letter on Religious Freedom" (Religious leaders protest HHS mandate)," Reprinted by Free Republic, 2012-JUN-21, at: http://www.freerepublic.com/
- Rachel K. Jones and Joerg Dreweke, "Countering conventional wisdom: New evidence on religion and contraceptive use," Guttmacher Institute, 2011-APR, at: http://www.guttmacher.org/
Copyright © 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2012-JUL-03
Latest update: 2012-JUL-15
Author: B.A. Robinson