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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mr. Obama, tear down this wall!

The Obama administration disdains phrases like "war on terror" or "war on religion" as terms of conservative simpletons who "cling to guns or religion" ("Battle lines are drawn over whether Obama is waging a war on religion," National news, Monday). Haggling over phraseology, however, does nothing to mitigate the potentially irreparable harm to the First Amendment wrought by this administration's series of attacks on religious freedom. Consider that in the past three years, people of faith and conscience have witnessed:
  1. the gutting of the only federal regulation protecting the exercise of conscience in health care; 
  2. the denial of federal grant funds for aiding human trafficking victims because a faith-based organization refused to participate in abortion; 
  3. the administration's audacious and unanimously rejected attempt to convince the Supreme Court to restrict faith-based organizations' hiring rights; and 
  4. a coercive contraceptive mandate that imposes the government's abortion ideology on the faith-based and pro-life communities.
The President has carried out these affronts to First Amendment freedoms with crafty technocracy and obfuscating rhetoric. It's time we Americans shifted our focus from phrases to actions. We are losing our freedoms.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech…" The freedom of religion, conscience and speech guaranteed by our Constitution is not subject to an imperial president's "concessions" or "accommodations;" this freedom is our inalienable right. The free exercise of religion means just that--free exercise. Free to reject government coercion over contraception. Free to hire faith-professing employees. Free to compete for federal grants regardless of abortion ideology. Free to exercise conscience in health care.
Instead of enforcing the founders' "wall of separation" protecting the Church's autonomy from state abrogation, this president instead has erected an unconstitutional wall of state coercion and discrimination separating the Church from its constitutional liberties.
Mr. Obama, tear down this wall!

Friday, February 17, 2012

House hearing focuses on religious freedom, contraception coercion

On Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing titled, “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” Written testimony and other resources are available here on the Committee’s website and this AP report describes the hearing.  Quotes from the witnesses are pasted below:
The Most Reverend William E. Lori, Roman Catholic Bishop of Bridgeport, CT, Chairman Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
“We serve people of all faiths, and none because they are catholic, but because we are catholic and our faith prompts us to do it and it flows from what we believe, how we worship and how we are to live. And so, we regard, for example, our catholic charities as really an outgrowth of our discipleship of the Lord and our communion with one another in the Lord and not a side business.”
The Reverend Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, President, The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod
“We deem this recent government mandate as an infringement upon the beliefs and practices of various religious communities. Therefore, we voice our public objections in solidarity with those who cherish their religious liberties. The decision by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to require virtually all health plans to comply with this mandate will have the effect of forcing many religious organizations to choose between following the letter of the law or operating within the framework of their religious tenets. We add our voice to the long list of those who have championed their God-given right to freely exercise their religious beliefs according to the dictates of their faith, and to provide compassionate care and clear Christian witness to society’s most vulnerable, without government encroachment.”
“I loathe the partisan nature of this discussion….I’m here for one reason, I am here because there is a narrow but very significant provision in HHS [regulations] that is I believe is very dangerous to religious people with our kind of convictions and I believe it’s also dangerous to any religious people who have unique convictions, so that’s why I am here.”
C. Ben Mitchell, Ph.D., Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy, Union University
"The policy is an unconscionable intrusion by the state into the consciences of American citizens. Contrary to portrayals in some of the popular media, this is not only a Catholic issue. All people of faith—and even those who claim no faith—have a stake in whether or not the government can violate the consciences of its citizenry. Religious liberty and the freedom to obey one’s conscience is also not just a Baptist issue. It is an American issue that is enshrined in our founding documents.”
Rabbi Meir Soloveichik,Director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought, Yeshiva University, Associate Rabbi, Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun
“In refusing to extend religious liberty beyond the parameters of what the administration chooses to deem religious conduct, the administration denies people of faith the ability to define their religious activity. Therefore, not only does the new regulation threaten religious liberty in the narrow sense, in requiring Catholic communities to violate their religious tenets, but also the administration impedes religious liberty by unilaterally redefining what it means to be religious.”
“The President’s spokesman recently when speaking about this subject said that what their concern is that they don’t want religious employers or organization restricting access to specific prescriptions etc. but of course those who have a religious objection are not seeking in America to restrict their access to it, what they are seeking is the freedom in their own right not to facilitate something that violates the tenants of their own faith.”
Craig Mitchell, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Ethics Chair of the Ethics Department Associate Director of the Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
“It is the church that was responsible for the creation of hospitals. The church was also responsible for much of the development of healthcare. With this kind of history, it is ironic that the religious organizations should have their rights crushed in the name of health care. If this is allowed to stand then there is nothing that the U.S. government cannot compel its citizens to do. Explain to me how all of this is consistent with the American ideal.”
John H. Garvey, President, The Catholic University of America 
“ Because there will be no added costs, religious institutions will not actually have to pay for the mandated services. We might call this the Shazam Theory. It resolves the intrusion on religious liberty by making the compelled contributions magically disappear.”
“From a moral point of view, the administration’s cost savings don’t matter even if they are real. When a student who is enrolled in our plan purchases contraceptives at the local CVS pharmacy, CVS will seek payment from the insurance company. The payment for that service will be charged to our account, funded by our contributions. The Shazam Theory assumes that charges for other drugs and services will go down as a result of contraceptive use. But it is still true that the University and its subscribers are being forced to pay for sterilizations, contraceptives, and abortions, and those are activities we view as immoral.”
Dr. William K. Thierfelder, President, Belmont Abbey College 
“The administration offered what it seemed to think was a nice gesture on January 20th, when it gave those religious organizations that do not qualify for the exemption an extra year to comply.
An extra year to learn how to violate our conscience and betray our deepest religious principles. I’ve explained this as akin to being told, “We know you use oxygen to breathe, so we’re going to
give you an extra year to figure out how to breathe without it, and we hope by then you’ve adapted.” Our religious beliefs and principles – and our freedom to express them without government interference – are as importance to us as the air we breathe. They are not something we are prepared to abandon in a year’s time because the government says we have to.”
Dr. Samuel W. "Dub" Oliver, President, East Texas Baptist University
“This issue is not about women’s health, it is about religious liberty. It is about whether the government will force religious people and organizations to do something they believe is wrong. Everyone here wants women to have access to good health care. We are asking that our religious views be respected.”
“If the government can force Catholic monks to dispense birth control, what can’t it do? If the government can decide that East Texas Baptist University is not religious enough to have the right to religious liberty, what can’t it do? If this administration can just decide that religious beliefs are less important than its chosen policy goals, what can’t it do?
These questions are frightening. And that is why religious organizations and people of will from all across the spectrum are joining together out of concern that this mandate threatens to erode one of our most precious rights, our religious liberty, guaranteed to us by the First Amendment.”
Dr. Allison Dabbs Garrett, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, Oklahoma Christian University
“This debate is not about whether women have the right to obtain these drugs. Rather, this debate is about whether those who believe that contraceptives or abortifacients violate their religious convictions must pay for them. There is a vast difference between the right to make a purchase for oneself and requiring someone else to pay for it.”
Laura Champion, M.D., Medical Director, Calvin College Health Services
“Even when Americans hold vastly different views on the sanctity of life, this mandate raises a point that should be examined by all: do we value religious freedom in our country or not? Further, the mandate elevates contraception and abortive drugs to the level of preventative health care. They are not. Plan B and Ella should not be considered equivalent to cancer screening or vaccinations. Pregnancy is not a disease. This is a premise that I reject both religiously and medically.”
“This is not about politics, this is not about contraception, and this is not about depriving women of health care. Rather, this is personal. This is about my daily life as a physician, a Christian, and a Medical Services Director. Whether I will be able as a physician to practice medicine within my belief system. Whether Calvin College will be able to continue its historic tradition of living out the faith it teaches. A government that is of the people, by the people, and for the people, should not force the people to violate their consciences.”

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Mr. President, have you heard the one about the getaway driver and super PACs?

President Obama announced Friday that despite pleas from the faith community to follow First Amendment principles of religious and conscience freedom, he still plans to mandate free contraceptives nationwide--including potentially life-ending pills like ella and the morning-after pill (Plan B).
But wait--there's more!
President Obama has come up with a new scheme (just like he did with the flimsy executive order on abortion that he used to pass Obamacare) to convince critics and people of faith that it's all good.
Why will it be okay now for people who object to contraception to participate in it?
Because now under the Obama scheme, it will be the insurance companies and not the conscientiously objecting faith-based employers that will do the dirty work. The insurance plans that faith-based employers provide for their employees will still have to cover contraceptives the faith-based employer considers immoral. (Many faith-based organizations and individuals either conscientiously object to all contraceptives or at least to those like ella and Plan B that can end the life of a developing human embryo.)
But here's Obama's special new conscience-soothing plan: now the insurance companies will be telling the employees about the controversial contraceptives.
Sure, the faith-based employer still knows full well that the faith-based organization's insurance premiums are subsidizing the contraceptives. But because contraceptives will not be listed in the paper contract the employer signs with the insurance company, President Obama figures no one will care any more about conscience.
For some reason, conscience and moral complicity seem particularly difficult concepts for this President and his administration to appreciate. Maybe an analogy will help explain why this scheme does absolutely nothing to alleviate conscience concerns of many in the faith-based community.
In a bank robbery, the getaway driver pulls up to the bank--knowing full well that a heist will take place--and then his companions do the actual deed of holding up the bank. If they're caught, the driver gets thrown in jail as an accomplice in armed bank robbery.
Why does the law penalize the driver as if he actually held up the bank teller with a gun, even though technically he stayed in the car and never touched a gun? Because he is an accomplice to a crime he knew was going to be committed.
The same is true of the Obama scheme. Those who, because of faith standards, consider certain or all contraception wrong can take no solace in the technicality that they're simply paying for someone else to do the deed.
Maybe these analogies will help the Obama team understand even more clearly:
  • Would a committed vegetarian paying for a dinner party at a restaurant feel better if the waiter had diners write down on paper their orders for steaks instead of telling the waiter in front of their vegetarian host? 
  • Would Attorney General Eric Holder feel better if US agencies simply contracted with other countries to water-board terrorism suspects?
  • Would President Obama let super PACs contribute to his political campaign when he has long asserted that he considers super PAC contributions utterly wrong? Oh, wait, maybe that's not the best analogy to make the point...

If 99% use contraception now, why mandate it?

In announcing his decision to continue his plans for contraception coercion, President Obama smugly asserted, 'Nearly 99 percent of all women have relied on contraception at some point in their lives.' 
While that figure strains credibility, if it were true, where's the huge problem of access to contraception that he says justifies the government's draconian actions? 
If President Obama is intent on government-mandated health care, instead of mandating cheap pills that don't treat a disease and 99 percent of patients can already obtain, wouldn't it make more sense to mandate the provision of lifesaving medicines that patients can't afford or obtain?

Friday, February 10, 2012

President's contraception decision fits pattern of contempt for conscience

Christian Medical Association: President's contraception decision fits pattern of contempt for conscience

Dr. David Stevens: "The President's so-called religious accommodation today shows that he either has no comprehension of what conscience convictions mean or that he cynically chooses to disregard conscience and play a political game."
Washington, DC--February 10, 2012--The nation's largest faith-based doctors' association, the 16,000-member Christian Medical Association (, issued a statement today protesting President Obama's decision to continue to require all insurance plans nationwide to pay for sterilizations and contraceptive pills that can end the life of a developing human being.
CMA CEO Dr. David Stevens asserted, "The President's so-called 'religious accommodation' today shows that he either has no comprehension of what conscience convictions mean or that he cynically chooses to disregard conscience and play a political game. We learned from his executive order on abortion in health care reform that verbal engineering cannot cover up a contempt for conscience.
"Those of us who have a conscientious conviction that contraceptive pills that can end the life of a developing human being are morally impermissible not only deplore paying for them directly; we also deplore the government forcing insurance companies or anyone else to pay for them. And we in faith-based organizations certainly have no intention of instructing employees how to obtain morally objectionable pills, as is required by Hawaii's policy--after which the President's 'accommodation' is reportedly patterned.
"No one--whether an individual citizen, a faith-based organization or an insurance company--should be forced by the federal government to participate in any way in the provision of pills that can end the life of a developing human being. That is simply contrary to American principles of freedom of conscience, and it shows the contempt for conscience inherent in radical abortion ideology.
"As Dr. Martin Luther King reminds us, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'
"As physicians who uphold life-honoring standards such as the Hippocratic oath, we recognize that it is morally or ethically wrong to risk ending the life of a developing human being by using pills such as ella and the morning-after pill. These pills are falsely promoted as ordinary contraceptives despite clear FDA label warnings that 'ella may also work by preventing attachment (implantation) to the uterus' and that the morning-after pill (Plan B) "may inhibit implantation by altering the endometrium.'"
"In his speech at Notre Dame, President Obama promised a 'sensible' respect for conscience, but in practice the President has demonstrated a pattern of contempt for conscience. The President has gutted the only federal regulation protecting the exercise of conscience in health care, denied of federal grant funds for aiding human trafficking victims because a faith-based organization refused to participate in abortion, lobbied the Supreme Court to restrict faith-based organizations' hiring rights and issued a coercive contraceptive mandate that imposes the government's abortion ideology on every American.
"Every American, regardless of political persuasion, should be protesting these assaults on our freedoms and contacting legislators to enact conscience-protecting legislation such as Amendment #1520 to S. 1813, the Surface Transportation bill. This amendment includes the text of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, introduced in the House by Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb. 1st) and in the Senate by Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)."