By Father Michael Phillips and Pastor Christopher Arch
Did you hear the one about the Catholic priest and evangelical pastor who decided to write an article together? The question almost sounds like the start of another corny faith-based joke.
Far from being funny, this statement describes our desire to write an article showing Christian solidarity in the face of a potentially dangerous intrusion by the government into areas of personal faith and practice.
Recently the Obama Administration announced it would not expand exemptions for religiously affiliated organizations when it comes to health insurance. Although churches would be exempt, religious institutions such as hospitals, colleges and charities will be required to provide health care coverage to employees which would include subsidized contraception, sterilization and coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, all of which are repugnant to Catholics and some of which are to Protestants.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius cited in her statement about the administration’s decision that there is evidence birth control “has significant health benefits for women and their families…” And although this view flies in the face of Catholic theology, the Obama Administration has given the Catholic Church a year to figure out how to either violate its collective conscience or close down shop!
And, although the vast majority of Protestant evangelicals don’t have a problem with contraception, every individual of faith must ask him or herself, “What religious conviction will I be forced to abandoned one day?” and “When that day
comes, will I want other individuals to stand alongside of me or will I want to stand alone?” We choose to stand together on this issue.
Although not perfect, let’s consider a fictitious analogy which may illustrate the administration’s demands on all Catholic and some Protestant institutions. Suppose the same Department of Health and Human Services came out with a study extolling the value of eating pork. Pork is nutritious and tasty. Pork is an excellent source of protein. Now, suppose this agency would require that in light of such evidence, all Muslim and Kosher Jewish delis must serve pork products, justifying their case that certain Jews and Muslims don’t keep dietary law and that folks from outside of these two faiths occasionally visit such restaurants. Such a ruling wouldn’t technically prohibit Jews or Muslims from owning delis, yet it would effectively make it impossible to do so without violating one’s conscience.
A governmental imposed violation of one’s conscience is what is at stake in Sebelius’ and Obama’s healthcare ruling. In our opinion this is a clear violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This amendment guarantees the religious freedoms of people of all faiths from government interference. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Does President Obama really want to see 629 Catholic hospitals closed and 750,000 employees fired? Who will provide care for the 19 million ER visitors and 100 million outpatients who sought attention in Catholic hospitals in 2010? If he does not, than the president must rescind this mandate, allowing for religious liberty as guaranteed by the US Constitution. Until then we will stand united for freedom of conscience.
Pastor Christopher Arch, BS, MA, MDiv.
Father Michael Phillips, MA, MTh.
(Fr. Michael Phillips has been pastor at St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church, Iowa City, for the past 12 years. Rev. Chris Arch is senior pastor of the Good News Bible Church, Iowa City, an independent, evangelical congregation where he has served for over 15 years. President Obama has made a revision to his original mandate, but, in our opinion, it does not lessen the main point of our article.)