Free exercise of religion
July 2, 2012
by Pastor Bill Hillyer, Saving Grace Lutheran Church, Delano

Following is an open letter from religious leaders in the United States to all Americans, which I would like to share with you.

Dear Friends,

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 American citizens.

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 (AN-PRM) 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.

Sincerely yours,

Leith Anderson, president, National Association of Evangelicals;

The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod;

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York, and president, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops;

The Rev. Mark Schroeder, president, Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod;

Dr. George O. Wood, general superintendent, General Council of the Assemblies of God;

The Rev. John A. Moldstad, president, Evangelical Lutheran Synod;

Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, lsp; provincial superior, Baltimore Province, Little Sisters of the Poor;

Gary M. Benedict, president, The Christian and Missionary Alliance US;

Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr., senior pastor, Hope Christian Church, and bishop, Fellowship of International Churches;

Bishop John F. Bradosky, North American Lutheran Church;

The Very Rev. Dr. John A. Jillions, chancellor, Orthodox Church in America;

Deaconess Cheryl D. Naumann, president, Concordia Deaconess Conference, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod;

The Most Rev. Robert J. Carlson, archbishop of St. Louis;

The Most Blessed Jonah, archbishop of Washington Metropolitan of All American and Canada Orthodox Church in America;

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president, NHCLC – Hispanic Evangelical Association;

Imam Faizul R. Khan, founder and leader, Islamic Society of Washington Area;

Sister Joseph Marie Ruessmann, RSM, JD, JCD, MBA; generalate secretary, Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, MI;

Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, SV; superior general of the Sisters of Life;

The Very Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, director of external affairs and interchurch relations, Orthodox Church in America;

Sister Barbara Anne Gooding, RSM, director, Department of Religion, Saint Francis Health System

The Most Rev. William E. Lori, archbishop of Baltimore, chairman, USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty;

L. Roy Taylor, stated clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America

Sister Margaret Regina Halloran, lsp; provincial superior, Brooklyn Province, Little Sisters of the Poor;

Sister Maria Christine Lynch, lsp; provincial superior, Chicago Province, Little Sisters of the Poor

Sister Constance Carolyn Veit, lsp; communications director; Little Sisters of the Poor