(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration’s health insurance mandate compelling employers to provide and pay for services they and their employees find morally unacceptable is a threat to Americans’ religious liberty, faith leaders told lawmakers Thursday.
Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, told a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that while his church has been “grandfathered out” of the Health and Human Services (HHS) provision, “We are deeply concerned that our consciences may soon be martyred by a few strokes on the keyboard as this administration moves us all into a single-payer system.”
“Conscience is a sacred thing,” Harrison said, telling committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa that the HHS regulation is intrusive.
“Please get the federal government, Mr. Chairman, out of our consciences,” he said.
Harrison was joined by four others on the panel – Rabbi Meir Soloveichik of Yeshiva University, Prof. C. Ben Mitchell of Union University, Dr. Craig Mitchell of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Bishop of Bridgeport, William E. Lori, representing the United States Conference of Bishops.
Issa opened the hearing by saying that the issue was about “religious freedom” and “whether or not protection will be afforded to religious institutions who follow their conscience in refusing to pay for products they find morally objectionable.”
The bishop used an example of a kosher deli being forced to pay for, prepare and serve ham sandwiches, while the rabbi condemned the administration for reaching its own conclusion about what it means to be religious.
“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,” Soloveichik said.
“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.”
Prof. Mitchell cited the Baptist founder of the state of Rhode Island, Roger Williams, who said the violation of a person’s religious conscience was like the “rape of the soul.”
“Williams understood that forcing a person through the power of the state to violate his or her own conscience is a monstrous harm,” he told the panel.
Harrison said that although the Lutheran Church is only opposed to birth control methods that end a pregnancy, “We stand with our friends in the Catholic Church and all others – Christian or non-Christian – under the free exercise and conscience provisions of the U.S. Constitution.”
Democrats on the committee characterized the issue as one dealing with denying women the right to have access to contraceptives and other reproductive services.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) joined others in criticizing the fact that the panel comprised only men.
“What I want to know is, where are the women?” Maloney said. “I look at this panel, and I don’t see one single individual representing the tens of millions of women across the country who want and need insurance coverage for basic preventive health care services, including family planning,” she said. “Where are the women?”
All of the panelists said they would rather face jail than violate their religious beliefs. Harrison referred to his ancestors, who he said had fought in wars to protect and preserve freedoms, including religious freedom.
“We fought for a free conscience and we won’t give it up without a fight,” he said.