Open letter: Standing together for religious freedom

July 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.


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.
Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
Southern Baptist Convention

Leith Anderson
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
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

Bishop Andrew
Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church of America

Dr. William J. Hamel
Evangelical Free Church

Randall A. Bach
Open Bible Churches

Bishop Bruce D. Hill
Evangelical Congregational Church

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

John Hopler
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
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
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
Missionary Church, Inc.

Rev. Susan Taylor
National Public Affairs Director
Church of Scientology

Joseph Tkach
Grace Communion International

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

Rocky Rocholl
Fellowship of Evangelical Churches

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

John Ashmen
Association of Gospel Rescue Missions

Mark Tooley
Institute on Religion and Democracy

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

Rabbi Aryeh Spero
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
Alliance Defending Freedom

Matt Smith
Catholic Advocate

Patrick J. Reilly
The Cardinal Newman Society

Barbara Samuels
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
Christian Medical Association

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

Tony Perkins
Family Research Council

Richard Land, D.Phil.
Southern Evangelical Seminary

Tom Minnery
Senior Vice President
Focus on the Family

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

Greg Mitchell
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
John Paul the Great University

Dr. Bill Thierfelder
Belmont Abbey College

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

Stephen D. Minnis
Benedictine College

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

Timothy T. O’Donnell, STD, KGCHS
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.
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
Wyoming Catholic College

Stanley Carlson-Thies
Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance

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

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

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

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24