(CNSNews.com) - Would you go to jail--or even close down your hospitals and schools--rather than violate your religious faith, a Republican lawmaker asked religious leaders at a House hearing on Thursday. The answer, given under oath, was unanimous: They will disobey.
"We're not going to violate our consciences," William E. Lori, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., told Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) in response to Gowdy's question about the Obama administration's contraception mandate.
The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church's Missouri Synod, said, "Yes, I would, clearly" rather go to jail.
"I'd like to be in his cell," said Dr. Ben Mitchell, a philosophy professor at Union University. ("We'll try to work that out," Rep. Gowdy said, prompting laughter.)
Rabbi Meir Soloveichik of Yeshiva University told the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee that freedom of conscience and of religion "is first and most sacred to our country."
And finally, Dr. Craig Mitchell, an ethics professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Rep. Gowdy, "This is not the kind of thing that we can afford to play with. This is essential to our country."
Gowdy suggested that maybe the Obama administration really wants to close down religiously affiliated hospitals and schools:
"Well, just so everybody understands what is going to happen: These guys are either going to go to jail because they won't violate their religious beliefs, or the hospitals and the schools are going to close, which means governemnt is going to get bigger, because they're going to have to fill the void that is left when you guys quit doing it. And maybe that's what they wanted all along."
Thursday's hearing, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), was about the "basic question of religious freedom, and whether or not protection will be afforded to religious institutions who wish to follow their conscience in refusing to pay for products they find morally objectionable."
The Obama administration, as part of its health care overhaul, has ordered most health care plans to provide contraception--including sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs--as part of free, preventive care coverage.
The Catholic Church teaches that contraception is morally wrong and impermissible, and while churches themselves will not have to provide such coverage, it must be available at no cost to women working at Catholic hospitals and universities, for example.
"A government policy that encroaches on the conscientious objections of religious groups concerns all Americans who value the protections of the First Amendment," Issa said.
Gowdy: Bishop, would you rather close down your hospitals and your schools than to comply with a governmental edict that violates your faith?
Bishop William E. Lori: We are not going to violate our consciences.
Gowdy: Reverend Harrison, you've already spoken with respect to civil disobedience. I believe you said you'd sooner go to jail than violate your conscience?
Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison: "Yes, I would, clearly."
Gowdy: Dr. Mitchell?
Dr. Ben Mitchell: I'd like to be in his cell.
Gowdy: We'll try and work that out. (laughter) Rabbi?
Rabbi Meir Soloveichik: Freedom of conscience and of religion, congressman, is first and most sacred to Americans.
Gowdy: Dr. Mitchell?
Dr. Craig Mitchell: This is not the kind of thing that we can afford to play with. This is essential our country.
Rep. Gowdy: "Well, just so everybody understand what is going to happen: These guys are either going to go to jail because they won't violate their religious beliefs, or the hospitals and the schools are going to close, which means government is going to get bigger, because they're going to have to fill the void that is left when you guys quit doing it. And maybe that's what they wanted all along."