"Despite our theological differences, we cannot remain silent while others find their First Amendment freedom of religion rights trampled," reads the column, co-signed by Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land and GuideStone Financial Resources President O.S. Hawkins.
"As Baptists we defend Catholics' right to not have their consciences coerced by government edict on the issue of contraception."
Under the mandate announced by the Department of Health and Human Services, all employers must offer employees health insurance covering all FDA-approved contraceptives for free -- including ones such as Plan B and "ella" that can act after fertilization, causing a chemical abortion. President Obama announced a compromise that he says protects religious organizations, although it was widely criticized by Christian groups as insufficient. Under his compromise, the insurance companies would be responsible for offering the employees free contraceptives.
"The president's 'compromise' ... revealed the White House's basic lack of understanding by thinking this issue could be solved simply by word games or accounting tricks," the SBC leaders say. "Moreover, it ignores the needs of many of the oldest and largest church insurance plans in the nation. GuideStone, the provider of insurance for many Southern Baptists, is self-funded, which means it pays benefits directly instead of using a third-party insurance company. In the name of religious freedom, it cannot be forced by the government to provide services contrary to its religious convictions."
The mandate, Wright, Land and Hawkins say, is a "flagrant violation of the First Amendment's free exercise clause protections enshrined in the U.S. Constitution."
The men quote from Mark 12:17: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." The mandate crosses the line and intrudes on religion and conscience, the men say.
"This mandate by the executive branch is less about birth control, abortion or the Catholic Church than it is about the government attempting to compel people to subsidize and pay for that which they find unconscionable," the SBC leaders assert. "Thomas Jefferson understood the impropriety of requiring citizens to involuntarily fund activities they find morally repugnant. In the draft of the Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom (1779), Jefferson wrote, 'To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical.'"
Wright, Land and Hawkins conclude, "We urge Americans of all faiths (and no faith) to call upon the Obama administration to rescind this order, which is a gross violation of the First Amendment. We encourage you to contact your U.S. senators and your congressman, urging them to press the White House to reverse this decision and to support legislation that would undo this unwarranted government overreach."
The entire column can be read online at http://wapo.st/wybM80.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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