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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.”

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