Saturday, June 23, 2012

Open Letter: Free Exercise of Religion

The following was issued Thursday by the leaders of several religious communities in the United States, including the Presidents/Bishops of four Lutheran church bodies. Written by the Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison, President of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, he also offers this video introduction. Pastor Zip

Hat tip to Fr. William Weedon at
ALPB Forum Online.

Putting Beliefs into Practice

An Open Letter from Religious Leaders
in the United States to All Americans

June 21, 2012

Dear Friends,

Religious institutions are established because of religious beliefs and convictions. Such institutions include not only churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship, but also schools and colleges, shelters and community kitchens, adoption agencies and hospitals, organizations that provide care and services during natural disasters, and countless other organizations that exist to put specific religious beliefs into practice. Many such organizations have provided services and care to both members and non-members of their religious communities since before the Revolutionary War, saving and improving the lives of count- less American citizens.

As religious leaders from a variety of perspectives and communities, we are compelled to make known our protest against the incursion of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) into the realm of religious liberty. HHS has mandated that religious institutions, with only a narrow religious exception, must provide access to certain contraceptive benefits, even if the covered medications or procedures are contradictory to their beliefs. We who oppose the application of this mandate to religious institutions include not only the leaders of religious groups morally opposed to contraception, but also leaders of other religious groups that do not share that particular moral conviction.

That we share an opposition to the mandate to religious institutions while disagreeing about specific moral teachings is a crucial fact. Religious freedom is the principle on which we stand. Because of differing understandings of moral and religious authority, people of good will can and often do come to different conclusions about moral questions. Yet, even we who hold differing convictions on specific moral issues are united in the conviction that no religious institution should be penalized for refusing to go against its beliefs. The issue is the First Amendment, not specific moral teachings or specific products or services.

The HHS mandate implicitly acknowledged that an incursion into religion is involved in the mandate. However, the narrowness of the proposed exemption is revealing for it applies only to religious organizations that serve or support their own members. In so doing, the government is establishing favored and disfavored religious organizations: a privatized religious organization that serves only itself is exempted from regulation, while one that believes it should also serve the public beyond its membership is denied a religious exemption. The so-called accommodation and the subsequent Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) do little or nothing to alleviate the problem.

No government should tell religious organizations either what to believe or how to put their beliefs into practice. We indeed hold this to be an unalienable, constitutional right. If freedom of religion is a constitutional value to be protected, then institutions developed by religious groups to implement their core beliefs in education, in care for the sick or suffering, and in other tasks must also be protected. Only by doing so can the free exercise of religion have any meaning. The HHS mandate prevents this free exercise. For the well-being of our country, we oppose the application of the contraceptive mandate to religious institutions and plead for its retraction.

Sincerely yours,
Leith Anderson

National Association of Evangelicals

Gary M. Benedict

The Christian and Missionary Alliance U.S.

Bishop John F. Bradosky
North American Lutheran Church

The Most Rev. Robert J. Carlson

Archbishop of St. Louis

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan
Archbishop of New York

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, S.V.
Superior General of the Sisters of Life

Sister Barbara Anne Gooding, R.S.M.

Director, Department of Religion

Saint Francis Health System

Sister Margaret Regina Halloran, l.s.p.

Provincial Superior
Brooklyn Province Little Sisters of the Poor

The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison


The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr.
Senior Pastor, Hope Christian Church
Bishop, Fellowship of International Churches

The Very Rev. Dr. John A. Jillions

Orthodox Church in America

The Most Blessed Jonah
Archbishop of Washington

Metropolitan of All American and Canada Orthodox Church in America
Imam Faizul R. Khan
Founder and Leader

Islamic Society of Washington Area

The Very Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky
Director of External Affairs and Interchurch Relations
Orthodox Church in America

Most Rev. William E. Lori
Archbishop of Baltimore


USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty

Sister Maria Christine Lynch, l.s.p.

Provincial Superior
Chicago Province Little Sisters of the Poor

Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, l.s.p.

Provincial Superior
Baltimore Province Little Sisters of the Poor

The Rev. John A. Moldstad

Evangelical Lutheran Synod

Deaconess Cheryl D. Naumann

Concordia Deaconess Conference

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez


Hispanic Evangelical Association

Sister Joseph Marie Ruessmann
Generalate Secretary

Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Michigan

The Rev. Mark Schroeder

Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod

L. Roy Taylor
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America

Sister Constance Carolyn Veit, l.s.p.

Communications Director

Little Sisters of the Poor

Dr. George O. Wood
General Superintendent

The General Council of the Assemblies of God

The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), authored and issued “Free Exercise of Religion: Putting Beliefs into Practice,” an open letter to all Americans voicing opposition to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) contraceptive mandate and pleading for its retraction. Twenty-four religious leaders joined President Harrison in signing the letter, which was issued June 21, 2012.

For more information about the LCMS response to the HHS contraceptive mandate, please visit or call 888-THE LCMS (843-5267).

No comments: