Article

Open letter: Standing together for religious freedom

Jul 9, 2013

On July 2, 2013, ERLC President Russell D. Moore, along with more than 100 other leaders from diverse faith communities, released an open letter expressing opposition to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ contraceptives mandate, saying it “continues to breach universal principles affirmed and protected by the U.S. Constitution and other federal laws.” The letter “call[s] 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, the letter urges Congress “to consider how it might prevent such offenses from occurring in the future,” adding that “[a]ny policy that falls short of affirming full religious freedom protection for all Americans is unacceptable.”

Below is the text of the letter.

Standing Together for Religious Freedom

An Open Letter to All Americans

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 defining–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. 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?

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.

Signed:

Most Rev. William E. Lori
Archbishop of Baltimore
Chairman United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty

Russell D. Moore, Ph.D.
President
Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
Southern Baptist Convention

Leith Anderson
President
National Association of Evangelicals

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez
National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
Hispanic Evangelical Association

Bishop Gary E. Stevenson
Presiding Bishop
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison
President
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

Bishop Andrew
Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church of America

Dr. William J. Hamel
President
Evangelical Free Church

Randall A. Bach
President
Open Bible Churches

Bishop Bruce D. Hill
Evangelical Congregational Church

The Most Rev. Craig W. Bates
Patriarch
International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church

John Hopler
Director
Great Commission Churches

A.D. Beacham, Jr., Th.M.
Presiding Bishop
International Pentecostal Holiness Church

Clyde M. Hughes
Bishop/General Overseer
International Pentecostal Church of Christ

Dr. Gary M. Benedict
President
The Christian and Missionary Alliance, U.S.

Dr. Jeffrey Jeremiah
Stated Clerk
Evangelical Presbyterian Church

Bishop John F. Bradosky
North American Lutheran Church

Jo Anne Lyon
General Superintendent
The Wesleyan Church

Anuttama Dasa
Minister of Communications
Governing Body Commissioner, Vice Chair
International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)

Dr. George O. Wood
General Superintendent
Assemblies of God

Most Revd Robert Duncan
Archbishop
Anglican Church in North America

Alan Robinson
National Director
Brethren in Christ Church, U.S.

Rev. Jim Eschenbrenner
Executive Pastor
Christian Union

Most Reverend Nicholas J. Samra
Bishop of Newton
Melkite Greek Catholic Church

Bill Hossler
President
Missionary Church, Inc.

Rev. Susan Taylor
National Public Affairs Director
Church of Scientology

Joseph Tkach
President
Grace Communion International

Terri Marsh, J.D., Ph.D.
President
Human Rights Law Firm

Rocky Rocholl
President
Fellowship of Evangelical Churches

Prof. Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher, and
Prof. Dr. Christof Sauer
Executive Directors
International Institute for Religious Freedom

John Ashmen
President
Association of Gospel Rescue Missions

Mark Tooley
President
Institute on Religion and Democracy

Sister Jane Marie Klein
Chairperson of the Board
Franciscan Alliance, Inc.

Rabbi Aryeh Spero
President
Caucus for America

Sister Margaret Regina Halloran, l.s.p.
Provincial Superior, Brooklyn
Sister Maria Christine Lynch, l.s.p.
Provincial Superior, Chicago
Sister Loraine Marie Clare Maguire, l.s.p.
Provincial Superior, Baltimore
Little Sisters of the Poor

Eileen Cubanski
Executive Director
National Association of Private Catholic and Independent Schools

Brent McBurney
President & CEO
Advocates International | William A. Estrada, J.D.
Director of Federal Relations
Home School Legal Defense Association

Alan Sears
President
Alliance Defending Freedom

Matt Smith
President
Catholic Advocate

Patrick J. Reilly
President
The Cardinal Newman Society

Barbara Samuels
Co-Founder
Catholics for Freedom of Religion

David Nammo
Executive Director & CEO
Christian Legal Society

Manuel D. Gonzalez, M.D. and Adriana Gonzalez
President and Vice-President
Catholics Called to Witness

David Stevens, MD, MA
CEO
Christian Medical Association

Dr. Tom Cathey
Chief of Staff, Director for Legal/Legislative Issues
Association of Christian Schools International

Tony Perkins
President
Family Research Council

Richard Land, D.Phil.
President
Southern Evangelical Seminary

Tom Minnery
Senior Vice President
Focus on the Family

John Garvey, J.D.
President
The Catholic University of America

Greg Mitchell
President
The Mitchell Firm

Stephen Baskerville, Ph.D.
Professor of Government
Patrick Henry College

Sr. Mary Sarah Galbraith, O.P., President
Sr. Mary Angelica Neenan, O.P., S.T.D., Theologian
Dr. Richard Bulzacchelli, S.T.D., Theologian
Sr. Jane Dominic Laurel, O.P., S.T.D., Theologian
Aquinas College, Nashville | Msgr. Edward J. Dillon, J.C.D., President
Fr. Paul A. Burke, J.C.D., Chair of the Faculty of Theology
Prof. Matthew McWhorter
Holy Spirit College

Francesco C. Cesareo, Ph.D., President
Prof. Marc D. Guerra, Ph.D.
Prof. Christopher P. Klofft
Prof. Marc A. LePain
J. Brian Benestad, Ph.D.
(Rev.) Barry Bercier, A.A.
Assumption College

Rev. Charles Sikorsky, LC, JD, JCL, President
Prof. Craig Steven Titus, S.T.D./Ph.D.
Institute for the Psychological Sciences

Jim Towey, President
Michael A. Dauphinais, Vice President for Academic Affairs
Dr. William Riordan, Director of Undergraduate Theology
Prof. Steven A. Long, Ph.D.
Ave Maria University

Dr. Derry Connolly
President
John Paul the Great University

Dr. Bill Thierfelder
President
Belmont Abbey College

Dr. Thomas Powell, President
Msgr. Stuart Swetland, Archbishop Flynn Chair of Christian Ethics
Mount Saint Mary’s University

Stephen D. Minnis
President
Benedictine College

D. Gregory Main, President
Assist. Prof. Richard S. Meloche, Ph.D.
St. Gregory’s University

Timothy T. O’Donnell, STD, KGCHS
President
Christendom College

Michael F. McLean, President
Paul O’Reilly, Vice President for Development
Brian T. Kelly, Dean
John Quincy Masteller, General Counsel
Thomas Aquinas College

George A. Harne, Ph.D., President
The Rev. Roger Boucher, Chaplain
Commander, US Navy (ret)
College of St. Mary Magdalen

William Edmund Fahey, Ph.D., President & Fellow
Walter J. Thompson, Fellow
Ryan Topping, Ph.D., Fellow
Thomas More College of Liberal Arts

Rev. Bernard F. O’Connor, O.S.F.S.
President
DeSales University

Monsignor James P. Shea, President
Dr. Sam Condic, Chair of the Department of Philosophy
Prof. Leroy Huizenga
Prof. David Fleischacker
The University of Mary

Fr. Sean O. Sheridan, TOR, President
Prof. Anne Hendershott, Ph.D.
Prof. Daniel R. Kempton, Ph.D.
Prof. Patrick Lee, Ph.D.
Franciscan University of Steubenville

Dr. Kevin D. Roberts
President
Wyoming Catholic College

Stanley Carlson-Thies
President
Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance

Edward O. Blews, Jr.
President
Council for Christian Colleges & Universities

Dr. Robert Ivany
President
University of Saint Thomas – Houston|Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, S.V.
Superior General
Sisters of Life

Sister Regina Marie Gorman, O.C.D.
Chairperson
Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious