HHS Final Rules Does Little to Protect Freedom of Conscience

On June 28 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released the final rules to the contraceptive mandate. The long awaited measure does nothing to protect religious liberty and freedom of conscience.

Recently Archbishop Lori, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics  & Religious Liberty Commission, and a varied assortment of religious leaders and scholars, released on open letter entitled Standing Together for Religious Freedom calling for a return to religious freedom and conscience rights.

The diverse group of signatories unite in a common defense of Constitutional principles and democratically passed federal legislation.

“While the mandate is a specific offense, it represents a greater fundamental breach of conscience by the federal government,” the letter states.

The media has entirely misconstrued the HHS mandate debate by portraying the controversy as a matter of religious organizations trying to impose their religious views on public policy – when in fact it is the other way around. Our nation was founded by religious exiles fleeing from an oppressive monarchy that regulated religious doctrine; now, in a 21st century republic, the Obama administration is returning to such backward principles.

“The issue here is not contraception or abortion,” Moore said, “At issue is the callous disregard our government has shown for the freedom of Americans to exercise their religious convictions.” In fact, the various signatories have divergent views on contraception and abortion. However, they unanimously agree that the HHS mandate allows the government to deny certain Americans their constitutionally-protected rights.

This coalition of leaders reiterated the constitutionally sanctioned standards by which HHS must abide. First and foremost, religious freedom is a zero sum concept. “Any policy that falls short of affirming full religious freedom protection for all Americans is unacceptable”, the letter said. Both Moore and Lori pointed out that a government authorized to disregard my conscience today, is free to trample on your conscience tomorrow. It is discriminatory and unacceptable to apply our founding freedoms to selective groups.

Second, HHS must not restrict an individual’s freedom of conscience to the privacy of her home. By dissecting religious institutions into three divisions—houses of worship, accommodated religious institutions, and for-profit entities run by religious believers—the administration is mandating that individuals sever their identity as a faithful servant of God from their role as a communal neighbor. Archbishop Lori stated, “The faith by which we worship on Sunday is the very same faith by which we act in the world the other six days of the week.” HHS must not demand religious individuals to purchase insurance or religious employers to provide insurance that facilitates access to contraception and abortifacents.

Third, the HHS regulations must abide by civil rights standards. Dr. Yuri Mantilla pointed out that Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” The United States cannot properly pursue foreign policy goals like advocating religious freedom if it violates this freedom at home.  

This is a mock “accommodation” that gives Americans of faith and conscience until January to figure out how we will betray our deeply rooted conscience and religious convictions.

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