VIDEO: Remarks at the National Press Club

By Russell Moore
Jul 2, 2013

Below are the prepared remarks of Russell D. Moore for a press conference held at the National Press Club, July 2, 2013. (C-SPAN) The press conference, hosted by the ERLC and the U.S. Conference of Catholics Bishops announced an open letter titled Standing Together for Religious Freedom, signed by a theologically diverse group of organizations.

Other speakers at the conference included Archbishop William E. Lori, Prof. Anne Hendershott and Dr. Yuri Mantilla. The prepared remarks of all participants are available here (PDF).

Hello, my name is Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Our First Freedom of religious liberty is rarely challenged with sudden “shock and awe” tactics. Instead, from the very beginning, such incursions on religious liberty happen in this country from the pen of a bureaucrat rather than from the barrel of a tank.

My Baptist forebears objected to the state licensing preachers to preach. This was, the government said, simply a matter of paperwork. The state license, though, was about more than a fee and a piece of paper. It was about a government that had overstepped its authority.

Whatever the challenges, America has always returned back the founding principles of this new republic: that religious liberty and freedom of conscience are not government grants, handed out to the deserving. Religious liberty and freedom of conscience are inalienable rights, granted by the Creator—and these natural rights belong to all persons not just those who are in the majority of the ambient culture.

Americans are planning to gather this week, for cookouts and picnics and fireworks, to mark yet another Independence Day. We, a broad coalition of religious leaders, mark this Independence Day week by calling our government back to our first freedom, the free exercise of religion.

The Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate has catalyzed this coalition. This mandate imposes heavy fines and legal penalties on organizations and businesses which do not participate in the provision of contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs. The issue here is not contraception or abortion. We wouldn’t all agree on those questions ourselves. At issue is the callous disregard our government has shown for the freedom of Americans to exercise their religious convictions.

We love and respect our President, President Obama, and we have appealed as citizens for the Administration to respect conscience rights. In response, the government has given us word games and accounting tricks that amount to the same mandate, over and over again. We are not so easily hypnotized by bureaucratic parlor tricks. Our government has treated free exercise of religion as though it were a tattered house standing in the way of a government construction of a railroad; there to be bought off or plowed out of the way, in the name of progress.

We dissent. As a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ, soul liberty is about more than a political principle for me. I believe, as my Lord commands, that we should render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar. The conscience does not bear the image of Caesar, and cannot be swept into the federal treasury by government fiat.

We cannot accept the theology lesson the government has sought to teach us, that religion is simply a matter of what happens during the scheduled times of our services, and is left there in the foyer during the rest of the week. Our religious convictions aren’t reduced to simply the opinions we hide in our hearts, or sing in our hymns. Our religious convictions inform the way we live.

We support freedom of conscience not only for ourselves, but for all. One of the reasons we oppose this sort of incursion into free exercise is that we want neither to be oppressed nor to oppress others. We do not ask the government to bless our doctrinal convictions, or to impose them on others. We simply ask the government not to set itself up as lord of our consciences.

Many Americans will disagree with us heartily about the things we believe. But even Americans of no religious faith at all have an interest in the protection of these liberties. Do we really want the sort of civil society in which the consciences of the people are so easily swept aside by government action? If the federal government can force organizations and businesses to pave over their own consciences, to choose between being believers and being citizens, what will stop the government from imposing its will on your conscience next?

We call then on the Department of Health and Human Services to, at the very least, expand conscience protections under the mandate to cover any organization or individual with religious or moral objections to covering, providing, or enabling access to the mandated drugs and services. We ask Congress to prevent such abuses from happening in the future. And we call on Americans to remember the great costs this country has endured to achieve religious liberty and freedom of conscience in order that we might continue these blood-bought rights for ourselves, and our posterity.

The Archbishop will please forgive me if I quote Martin Luther, who stirred no little controversy between our traditions some time ago. Nonetheless, I think we can all agree on his words as they apply to the audacity of the federal government in curtailing religious freedom. To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here we stand; we can do no other. God help us.

Thank you.

Further Learning

Learn more about: Citizenship, Healthcare, Religious Liberty,

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Open letter: Standing together for religious freedom Exchange with Ed Stetzer: Walking with Jesus