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HHS mandate: ‘fiery rafter in burning house’

WASHINGTON (BP) — Americans acting on their religious convictions are being singled out “because they won’t sing out of the hymn book of the church of the sexual revolution” in the view of Southern Baptist ethics leader Russell D. Moore.

The president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission voiced his assessment of religious freedom’s status in the United States during an interview on the Fox network’s “Fox & Friends” program. Moore appeared on the show to comment on a federal lawsuit filed by GuideStone Financial Resources to challenge the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s health and financial benefits entity, in its suit filed Oct. 11 with two of its health plan participants, contended its religious liberty and that of non-church-related organizations covered in its plan are violated by a rule issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to implement the 2010 health care law. That regulation requires employers to pay for coverage of workers’ contraceptives, including drugs that can cause abortions, but does not provide an exemption for entities like those that filed suit.

The HHS mandate “is just one fiery rafter in a burning house,” Moore said. “Religious liberty is under assault all over the place in this country in ways that I think are probably more pronounced than we have seen since the founding era.”

Individuals and institutions are even shutting down charitable work because of their refusal to compromise their religious beliefs, Moore said in agreeing with host Tucker Carlson’s appraisal.

“People who are doing good things in their communities motivated by religious convictions are simply being driven out of the public square because they won’t sing out of the hymn book of the church of the sexual revolution,” Moore said. “I just don’t think we can live this way as Americans.”

The HHS mandate violates the consciences of those who oppose abortion-causing drugs or contraceptives, Moore told Carlson during the Oct. 20 interview. “We simply can’t participate in these things.”

One thing the Obama administration is seeking to do is “define religion very narrowly, as though our religious liberty simply has to do with what happens between the time we get from the foyer to the pew and out the front doors again on Sunday morning, when in fact our religion … compels us to live our lives in a certain way,” Moore said. “It has to do with the way our consciences are being formed. And these rules simply do not reflect the way that we have lived as Americans in the past respecting one another’s consciences.”

Moore, GuideStone and other foes of the abortion/contraception mandate say HHS has provided adequate conscience protections for churches and affiliated auxiliaries but not for other religious institutions.

The administration provides “a very narrow category of what a religious organization is in ways that simply don’t reflect the way religious people live out our lives,” Moore said. “And so they’re saying, ‘If you are a house of worship, we’re going to exempt you from these things but not … other organizations that are doing all sorts of things from religious motivations.'”

In addition, the administration has provided no exemption for “people who are doing business who are motivated by their religious consciences,” thus burdening them “in a way that is very damaging to our fabric, I think, as a country,” he said.

Drugs covered by the HHS mandate include Plan B and other “morning-after” pills that possess a post-fertilization mechanism that can cause an abortion by preventing implantation of tiny embryos. The rule also covers “ella,” which — in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486 — can even act after implantation to end the life of the child.

In addition to the HHS mandate, same-sex marriage — now legal in 14 states and the District of Columbia — has produced growing clashes with religious freedom. Photographers, bakers and others who have refused to participate in same-sex ceremonies because of their Christian convictions have lost in court or suffered financially despite their appeals to the right to freely exercise their religion.

GuideStone’s first lawsuit against the federal government was the 74th filed against the mandate, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing GuideStone and the other plaintiffs — Truett-McConnell College, a Baptist-affiliated school in Cleveland, Ga., and Oklahoma City-based Reaching Souls International.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce soon if it will review lower court decisions regarding the HHS mandate. Both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma City-based retail chain owned by pro-life evangelicals, have asked the high court to rule in the same case. In an unconventional move Oct. 21, Hobby Lobby asked the justices to accept on appeal its win in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Meanwhile, Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania business owned by pro-life Christians, has asked the justices to review its loss in the Third Circuit.

If the Supreme Court grants review in either or both cases, it is likely to hear oral arguments early in 2014 and render a decision on the mandate before the end of its term in late June or early July.

The GuideStone suit, filed in a federal court in Oklahoma City, seeks a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the mandate until the judicial process is complete. GuideStone and its fellow plaintiffs face heavy financial penalties for non-compliance. The mandate will take effect Jan. 1, 2014, for Dallas-based GuideStone, which serves not only churches but missions organizations, schools, hospitals and other Baptist and evangelical ministries.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).