WASHINGTON (BP) -- The issue at the center of the swelling controversy over the Obama administration's refusal to protect the conscience rights of employers in its "contraceptive mandate" is "about as basic as it gets," especially for Baptists, says Richard Land.
"Does the government have the right to intrude on the consciences of people to force them to pay for that which they find unconscionable? This goes contrary to our tradition in this country and contrary to our understanding of the First Amendment's religious freedom protections," Land said Feb. 9 in explaining what is at the heart of the debate.
"In my opinion, a Baptist needs to take a stand on this issue. Our Baptist forefathers went to prison and died for the freedoms that we have, and now it's our responsibility in the providence of God to defend these freedoms lest they be taken away by government fiat," said Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
|" In my opinion, a Baptist needs to take a stand on this issue." |
-- Richard Land
Opposition has continued to grow -- especially among Roman Catholics and evangelicals -- since the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Jan. 20 that health insurance plans must cover contraceptives, including ones that can cause abortions, and sterilizations as preventive services. The "contraceptive mandate," as it has become known, requires all methods approved as birth control by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be included in a range of services offered to patients free of charge. Those FDA-endorsed contraceptives include ones that have abortion-causing properties -- "ella;" emergency contraception, such as Plan B, and the intrauterine device (IUD).
Protests especially have been focused on the rule's failure to provide an adequate religious exemption. The HHS rule includes an exception for employers who oppose paying for such coverage on religious grounds, but it is narrowly drawn. It will protect many churches and other houses of worship, but it apparently will not cover churches that may primarily serve people outside their faith. The exemption also will not extend to such Christian-based organizations as schools, hospitals and social service programs.
"This is not about the Obama administration and the Catholic Church. This is not about women and birth control pills," Land said. "This is about the government compelling people to subsidize and pay for that which they find unconscionable -- in the case of the Catholic Church, birth control and abortifacients; in the case of Southern Baptists, abortifacients, because this covers the morning-after pill, and it covers forms of contraception that allow conception but deny implantation, like the intrauterine device."
Obama's resistance so far to expanding the religious exemption -- a move opposed by abortion rights and some women's rights organizations but supported even by some liberal Catholics -- looks like it could affect his re-election bid.
"This is a decision that may very well cost the president dearly, because Catholics supported the president in the last election," Land said. "A majority of Catholics voted for Mr. Obama."
The questions he is asked most frequently about the issue are, Land said:
"Why would the Obama administration do this? Are they that tone deaf to people's feelings? Or are they so ideologically driven that they are going to force this issue based on their ideology?"
He thinks it is ideological, Land said.
He doesn't think Obama "can claim stupidity as an excuse," Land said, citing reports that Vice President Joe Biden and former Chief of Staff William Daley warned the president it would be a mistake.
Obama "listened to the female ideologues in his White House staff who were arguing what has been consistently argued by the Obama administration. That is -- that sexual rights trump religious rights," Land said.
As an example of this pattern, Land pointed to the president's recess appointment of Chai Feldblum to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, because she was "too radical" to gain Senate confirmation. He cited Feldblum's support for favoring gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered rights when they collide with religious freedom rights.
"Well, similarly, the Obama administration is arguing that their belief that a woman's right to have contraception and abortifacients paid for as part of her health services trumps the religious freedom and conscience concerns of Catholics and other Christians," Land said. "So it is typical of their elevation of sexual rights. It is typical of their diminution of religious freedom rights.
"This is part and parcel of their decision to go forward in attacking the ministerial exemption hiring clause to religiously affiliated institutions," he said. "Their position was so radical that they had a nine to nothing Supreme Court ruling against them [in January from a court that included two of Obama's own nominees]."
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief 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).