BREAKING: USCCB Leads Coalition of Religious Leaders in Call for Religious Liberty

BREAKING: USCCB Leads Coalition of Religious Leaders in Call for Religious Liberty July 2, 2013

Vires in Numeris. The Latin phrase (English translation: Strength in Numbers) sounds biblical, but a quick word search failed to turn up any instances in Scripture; rather, it’s been used in music, in film, in a motorcycle parade.  More recently, the phrase has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity because it’s the motto engraved on the bitcoin.

And today, some 61 religious leaders, representing millions of Americans from many faith backgrounds, have banded together in defense of religious liberty. 

At 2:00 p.m. Tuesday, July 2, at the National Press Club, a group of national religious leaders and scholars released an open letter calling for religious freedom, in light of the finalized Health and Human Services (HHS) Mandate.

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, representing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Russell D. Moore of the Ethical and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention are among 61 signatories on the letter, representing some 26 major denominations; 11 colleges, universities and institutes of higher education; and 16 nonprofit and concerned for-profit organizations and religious orders. 

In the letter, the leaders call upon HHS to expand conscience protections to cover any organization or individual that has religious or moral objections to covering, providing or enabling access to the mandated drugs and services.  They also ask Congress to take measures to prevent future breaches of religious freedom.

Here, in its entirety, is the text of the open 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.

And here is a list of the signatories:

Most Rev. William E. Lori

Archbishop of Baltimore
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Ad Hoc Committee for Religious LibertyRussell D. Moore, Ph.D.
Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of
the Southern Baptist Convention

Leith Anderson
National Association of Evangelicals

Bishop Andrew
Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church of America

John Ashmen
Association of Gospel Rescue Missions

Bishop Gary E. Stevenson
Presiding Bishop
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Randall A. Bach
Open Bible Churches

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

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

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

Dr. Gary M. Benedict
The Christian and Missionary Alliance, U.S.
J. Brian Benestad, Ph.D
Department of Theology
Assumption College

The Rev. Roger Boucher
Commander, US Navy (ret)
Chaplain at College of St. Mary Magdalen

Bishop John F. Bradosky
North American Lutheran Church

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

Most Revd Robert Duncan
Anglican Church in North America

Rev. Jim Eschenbrenner
Executive Pastor
Christian Union

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez
National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
Hispanic Evangelical Association
Rev. Dr . Matthew C. Harrison
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

Dr. William J. Hamel
Evangelical Free Church

Bishop Bruce D. Hill
Evangelical Congregational Church

John Hopler
Great Commission Churches

Bill Hossler
Missionary Church, Inc.

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

Dr. Jeffrey Jeremiah
Stated Clerk
Evangelical Presbyterian Church
Jo Anne Lyon
General Superintendent
The Wesleyan Church

Dr. George O. Wood
General Superintendent
Assemblies of God
Alan Robinson
National Director
Brethren in Christ Church, U.S.
Joseph Tkach
Grace Communion International

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

Rev. Susan Taylor
National Public Affairs Director
Church of Scientology

Anne Hendershott, Ph.D.
Daniel R. Kempton, Ph.D.
Patrick Lee, Ph.D.
Franciscan University of Steubenville

Assist. Prof. Richard S. Meloche, Ph.D.
Department of Philosophy & Theology
St. Gregory’s University

Sister Jane Marie Klein
Chairperson of the Board
Franciscan Alliance, Inc.
Richard Land, D.Phil.
Southern Evangelical Seminary

Marc A. LePain
Professor of Theology
Assumption College

Fr. Sean O. Sheridan, TOR
Franciscan University of Steubenville

Tom Minnery
Senior Vice President
Focus on the Family

Greg Mitchell
The Mitchell Firm

David Nammo
Executive Director & CEO
Christian Legal Society

Rocky Rocholl
Fellowship of Evangelical Churches

Patrick J. Reilly
The Cardinal Newman Society

Dr. William Riordan
Director of Undergraduate Theology
Ave Maria University

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

Brent McBurney
President & CEO
Advocates International

Barbara Samuels
Catholics for Freedom of Religion
Steven A. Long, Ph.D
Professor of Theology
Ave Maria University
Prof. Dr. Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher, and
Prof. Dr. Christof Sauer
Executive Directors
International Institute for Religious Freedom

Alan Sears
Alliance Defending Freedom
Matt Smith
Catholic Advocate

David Stevens, MD, MA
Christian Medical Association
Rabbi Aryeh Spero
Caucus for America

Craig Steven Titus, S.T.D./Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Director of Integrative Studies
Institute for the Psychological Sciences

Mark Tooley
Institute on Religion and Democracy

Ryan Topping, Ph.D.
Thomas More College of Liberal Arts

Sister Margaret Regina Halloran, l.s.p.
Provincial Superior, Brooklyn Province

Sister Maria Christine Lynch, l.s.p.
Provincial Superior, Chicago Province

Sister Loraine Marie Clare Maguire, l.s.p.
Provincial Superior, Baltimore Province
Little Sisters of the Poor

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  • Abe Rosenzweig

    I’m wondering about the following:

    “And today, some 61 religious leaders, representing millions of
    Americans from many faith backgrounds, have banded together in defense
    of religious liberty.”

    Specifically, I’m wondering if it is accurate to say that “many faith backgrounds” are represented by the signatories of this statement. As far as I can tell, the only person who explicitly represents a non-Christian faith group is the communications director of ISKCON. Rabbi Aryeh Spero signed, but you can be confident that very, very few Jews would feel comfortable in claiming him as a representative!

    In other words, this statement represents a variety of Christian communities, but it hardly represents a diversity of faiths.

    • kathyschiffer

      Well, Abe, I think you misunderstand just how different the faiths represented here are. That isn’t what matters, though; what matters is that your faith tradition is not yet represented on this list. You understand, from the letter, that some faiths do not oppose contraception, yet see the grave constitutional problem with having the government impose a policy which conflicts with Catholics’ and others’ most deeply held beliefs. Think of it this way: “First they came for the Catholics…”

      Perhaps you should discuss this with leaders of the Jewish faith, and encourage them to join forces with their brothers and sisters who worship the same God.

      • Abe Rosenzweig

        How do you know what my faith tradition is? Even if you have correctly guessed it, you should know what a dangerous and bad idea it is to assume what someone’s beliefs are on the basis of their name.

        No, my faith tradition isn’t on that list. Neither are any faith traditions, barring Krishna Consciousness, that are not Christian. No matter how different these Christian groups are (and I can assure you that I haven’t misunderstood that), they are still Christian. I think that you have misunderstood my point: it is simply a misrepresentation of the facts on the ground for those promoting this statement to claim that it does something that it doesn’t actually do (in this case, represent “many faith backgrounds”). Do you disagree with the notion that misrepresentation won’t do the statement any favors? Even if you want to claim that a number of Christian denominations represents “many faith backgrounds,” I think it makes sense to recognize that it only does so in a highly qualified manner.

        • kathyschiffer

          Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and Scientology are also not Christian denominations.

          My apologies to you for misunderstanding your point. You seem, as well, to misunderstand mine. I think 61 signatories represent “many faiths”; it would have been inaccurate to say “ALL faiths.”

          I repeat my invitation to contact your own faith leaders, and invite them to step up to support religious liberty, in keeping with the Constitution of this great land.

          • Charles Breemer

            Good call on Scientology (I disagree that the LDS are not a Christian denomination, but that’s not really a big deal here and now).

            I’m not sure why you’re taking such a defensive stance, when I think it might be worthwhile to take under consideration what it means that this effort isn’t gaining more support among non-Christian faiths (if you want to argue that a bunch of different Christian denominations is
            representative enough of religious diversity, that’s up to you–but I think it’s dodging a problem). So far, in addition to Christian groups, you have Scientology and the Hare Krishnas. From a tactical point of view, do you think that that fact isn’t indicative of a failure on the part of this movement to genuinely represent the needs of religious groups in America? Why aren’t Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus (apart from those of the ISKCON crowd), Buddhists, and others signing on? So far, your approach is to fault these groups, as though they don’t care about religious freedom. Maybe the absence of their signatures says more about the approach of those spearheading this effort, than it does about whether those groups care about religious freedom.

          • kathyschiffer

            I spoke today with the organizers. They had extended other invitations to groups which did not meet the print deadline. I don’t know whether your particular religion (which you don’t seem ready to disclose) is among those groups; so again, I ask: Why don’t you see what you can do to get your people aboard in the effort to defend our Constitutional rights?

  • Pecos2

    Thanks for posting this. It will be of great interest to all my friends. I intend to make a real effort to make this go viral.