WASHINGTON—You know something unusual is happening when Catholics and evangelicals agree on a quote from Martin Luther—the 16th century reformer who split the groups with the start of the Protestant Reformation.
That’s what happened Tuesday when Catholic and Southern Baptist leaders held a joint press conference to announce an open letter opposing the Health and Human Services (HHS) contraceptive mandate. Catholic Archbishop William Lori and Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, joined a diverse group of 56 other faith leaders who signed on to the letter.
“The archbishop will please forgive me if I quote Martin Luther,” Moore said. “‘To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here we stand; we can do no other. God help us.’”
“The quotation from Martin Luther is happily accepted,” Lori responded.
Other signers of the letter include Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Church of Christ, Episcopalian, Assemblies of God, Orthodox Christian, Mormon, and Jewish leaders, in addition to religious institutions and nonprofits such as the National Association of Evangelicals, Focus on the Family, the Institute on Religion and Democracy, and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
“Many of the signatories on this letter do not hold doctrinal objections to the use of contraception,” the letter states. “Yet we stand united in protest to this mandate, recognizing the encroachment on the conscience of our fellow citizens.”
The mandate—part of the Affordable Care Act—requires insurance coverage plans to include contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs like Plan B and Ella, which terminate pregnancy after fertilization. Religious nonprofits and family owned businesses have combined to file more than 60 lawsuits over the mandate.
HHS released its final version of the mandate on Friday, but it provided no relief for religious nonprofits or individual business owners, such as Hobby Lobby’s Green family.
On Tuesday, Lori, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) ad hoc committee for religious liberty, said USCCB is still reviewing the “very complex” 110-page rule, after which it would issue a more thorough statement. In the meantime, he said the mandate splits the church into three different groups: houses of worship, religious institutions, and Christian-owned, for-profit entities.
“We in the Catholic Church have never seen such a distinction between what we do within the four walls of a church and how we serve our neighbors,” Lori said. “The faith by which we worship on Sunday is the very same faith by which we act in the world the other six days of the week.”
Two professors joined Moore and Lori at the press conference: Ann Hendershott, professor of sociology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, and Yuri Mantilla, associate law professor at Liberty University. Both schools have filed lawsuits over the mandate.
Lawmakers have filed conscience protection bills in both the House and Senate. Last month, Sens. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., introduced the Health Care Conscience Act, parallel legislation to what Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., filed in the House in March.
Lori and Moore, on behalf of the more than 90 million Catholics and Baptists in the U.S., sent joint letters to members of Congress urging them to support the legislation. Moore said religious groups will again ask the administration to reconsider, while also working to build support in Congress for a legislative solution.
“We’re not going away,” Moore said. “We’re going to continue to speak to this.”