By Adriane Dorr
LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison will take part in a Capitol Hill hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in Washington, D. C., on Thursday, Feb. 16. The hearing will focus on the issues of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience in relation to the Obama administration’s recent health-care ruling regarding contraceptives.
The panel also will include Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist and Jewish leaders.
The Rev. John T. Pless, who teaches theological ethics and is an assistant professor of Pastoral Ministry and missions at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, and Ann Stillman, vice-president and general counsel for Concordia Plan Services (the LCMS’ church workers’ health plan), will accompany Harrison to the nation’s Capitol.
On Tuesday, Feb. 14, Harrison also released a statement in response to President Obama’s Friday, Feb. 10, revision of the initial health-care ruling–one that required religious organizations to cover the cost of contraceptives (including abortive drugs)–calling the modification simply a “temporary enforcement delay.”
The original Jan. 20 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announcement required that health insurance plans “cover preventive services for women including recommended contraceptive services.”
But on Friday, after a public outcry concerning a violation of religious rights and rights of consciences, President Obama appeared to offer an “accommodation,” saying that non-profit religious organizations will no longer be required to include contraceptives in their health insurance plans. Coverage of contraceptives, however, would still be available through the insurance providers themselves.
“We see President Obama’s action Friday as significant,” said Harrison, but “the ‘accommodation’ did not expand the exemption for religious employers, nor did it restrict the mandate in any way.”
“We remain opposed to this mandate because it runs counter to the biblical truth of the sanctity of human life,” Harrison noted. “We can no longer expect a favored position for Christianity in this country. But we can, as citizens of this great nation, fight for constitutional sanity against secularizing forces.”
Harrison also encouraged members of the LCMS to “pray for and support our government” while reminding them that “our consciences and lives belong to God.”
James F. Sanft, president and CEO of Concordia Plan Services, praised Harrison for taking a strong stand on the issue, noting that the administration’s mandate has far-reaching implications for the Church.
“We strongly support President Harrison’s statement on behalf of the LCMS,” said Sanft. “The issues here go well beyond the Concordia Health Plan and our ability to serve our members in a manner consistent with our Lutheran doctrine.”
“This is, first, an issue of religious freedom and the First Amendment,” he said, “and second, an issue of life, as drugs that result in abortions are being defined as ‘contraceptives.'”
Harrison’s statement regarding Obama’s revision of the ruling can be read here. Harrison also released a video statement that can be seen here.
The Washington, D.C., hearing, which will begin at 9:30 a.m. EST, can be streamed live at the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s website.
Adriane Dorr is managing editor of The Lutheran Witness.
Posted Feb. 15, 2012