Evangelical Presbyterian Church issues statement on Preventive Care Mandate

Religious liberty means Americans are free to practice their chosen religion everywhere, all the time

Debate of the issue at the assembly acknowledged that the EPC does not take political positions but does issue statements related to theological and Biblical matters. Because life, religious liberty and the free exercise of the conscience are regarded as issues of significant importance, commissioners agreed overwhelmingly to issue the statement.

For an expressly pro-life denomination like the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), the United States government mandate to cover free-access to products like Plan B, the so-called morning after pill, and ella, the week-after pill, present a threat to life, religious liberty and the Christian conscience. In response, the 32nd General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church issued a statement related to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) preventative care mandate.

The controversial government mandate requires that after August 1, 2012, new health insurance plans must cover “all FDA-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures and (related) patient education and counseling.” Although churches are exempt, many other religious non-profit employers are not. Those FDA approved contraceptive methods include drugs, like those mentioned above, that are seen by pro-life Christians to be abortifacients.

As serious as the threat to life is, the threat to religious liberty and the free exercise of Christian conscience also concerns the EPC. The denomination’s statement reads, “It is the position of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church that these regulations constitute an unprecedented overreach by the federal government and an infringement upon religious liberty and rights of conscience guaranteed by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

Debate of the issue at the assembly acknowledged that the EPC does not take political positions but does issue statements related to theological and Biblical matters. Because life, religious liberty and the free exercise of the conscience are regarded as issues of significant importance, commissioners agreed overwhelmingly to issue the statement.

Three objections were raised. The first concern was one of perception, that in an election year, the statement might be seen as a political statement favoring one political party over another. Second, was the question about taking a stand against contraception when the EPC only has an official position against abortion. Third, concern was raised for the burden of the poor working woman for whom the $600/year for contraceptives makes a real difference.

The first objection was answered by another commissioner who argued that “my observation is that when people hear the EPC makes no effort to align itself with the ideologies that so divide our country people give a sigh of relief and I hope that continues. In this particular instance however, I don’t think we’re dealing with a partisan matter but with religious liberty. Are we willing to see other believers, other Christians, be required to act contrary to their convictions? If they can be today on the issue of contraception, then so can we in the future on the issue of abortion.”

The second objection is answered in the statement itself, which acknowledges that, “not every part of the Preventive Care Mandate offends the conscience of all believers. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church, for example, does not take a stand against artificial means of contraception. However, we do profoundly object to abortion on demand. Others, like many of our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, object to artificial contraception.” Another commissioner made the additional observation that some FDA-approved contraceptives are actually abortifacients.

The third objection was not directly addressed by the assembly.

The statement suggests that relief of conscience and preservation of religious freedom could be restored by the HHS rescinding the regulation or the United States Congress taking “appropriate action to ensure the protection of religious liberty and rights of conscience.”

The statement concludes that “where deemed advisable by the Committee on Administration, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church will join as amici curiae in pending or future civil actions to ensure the protection of religious freedom and rights of conscience.”

Why does this matter?

In the spring of 2012, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in congressional testimony that she did enlist the legal advice of the Department of Justice on whether the HHS preventive healthcare mandate was constitutional. It did not occur to her that forcing religious employers to provide coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, contraception and sterilization against their moral or religious beliefs might infringe on the first amendment of the Constitution and its guarantee of religious freedom.

Religious liberty is sometimes referred to as the first freedom. It insures that in America, people may freely worship and live in accordance with the proscribed practices of any particular faith without fear of government interference or reprisal. Religious freedom is a freedom essential to a democratic civil society.

The genuine practice of religious faith is not confined to a particular hour of the week nor is it confined to purely private practices of worship. Real faith has a pervasive impact on how people think, speak, live, give, serve, share, vote and yes, it affects their health and their sexual practices.

Religious liberty means that Americans are free to practice their chosen religion everywhere, all the time. Within the walls of a sanctuary on Sunday morning or in a convention center on the fourth of July. On the streets where people are hurting and in the halls of power where those elected to serve make decisions that affect everyone. The constitutional guarantee of the free exercise of religion does not merely protect the freedom to worship on Friday or Saturday or Sunday. It is 24-7-365 assurance that individuals can live their faith in every arena.

The HHS preventative care mandate is seen as a threat to the Constitution’s religious freedom protections because it narrowly defines religious exemption exclusively to formal houses of worship. There are many other religious employers, like Catholic schools, hospitals and crisis pregnancy centers that are not exempted. That means that those religious employers would be forced to provide coverage for the mandated services in violation of their express moral or religious objections. For everyone who advocates for the missional idea that religious work should and must be done outside the four walls of a church building, this violation of religious liberty should be recognized as a threat. The EPC has spoken here to that concern.

 

Carmen Fowler LaBerge is president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee and executive editor of its publications. This article first appeared on The Layman website and is used with permission 

[Editor’s note: the original URL (link) referenced in this article is no longer valid, so the link has been removed.]

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