Op-Ed

Debate is about religious freedom, not contraception

Mitch McConnell, Senate minority leader, is Kentucky's senior senator.
Mitch McConnell, Senate minority leader, is Kentucky's senior senator.

Just when you thought you'd heard it all, you can peel back the pages of the Herald-Leader and gaze with astonishment at a columnist's suggestion that the protections granted to people of faith under the First Amendment to the Constitution are akin to sharia law. Ironically, it's a credit to the First Amendment's protection of free speech and a free press that such an outlandish suggestion can be made at all.

Thankfully for the Herald-Leader and all Americans, your First Amendment rights are protected whether others think they should be or not. At least they were until a few weeks ago.

At issue is the Obama administration's recent decision to force religious institutions to provide insurance to its employees that includes coverage that some, including the Catholic Church, have religious objections to providing. The new rule is born of a provision created in Obamacare, health care legislation whose constitutionality is itself under examination by the Supreme Court.

The fact that liberals believe the controversy is about contraception underscores the troubled relationship they have with the Constitution.

How the government forces a church to violate its religious beliefs, or even what those beliefs might be, is inconsequential to the discussion. It's the violation itself that the framers anticipated when drafting the famous words, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Americans decided at our nation's inception that the government cannot tell someone whether their religion is worth believing. It doesn't matter whether the president thinks your beliefs are antiquated; your right to practice them is protected.

Bishops, pastors and rabbis alike banded together last week to support religious freedom. They understand what the framers realized when drafting the Bill of Rights: If the rights of some are not protected, the rights of all are in danger.

I received a letter recently from R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Kentucky's Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, which is the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world. He wrote: "The new policy effectively tells Christian institutions that, if we want to remain true to our convictions and consciences, we will have to cease serving the public."

Mohler added, "Christians of conscience are now informed by our own government that we must violate our convictions on a matter of grave theological and moral significance. The religious objections to this policy are rooted in centuries of teaching, belief and moral instruction. This policy is an outrage that violates our deepest constitutional principles and tramples religious liberty under the feet of deliberate government policy."

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville said, "the administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution ... denying to Catholics our nation's first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty. We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law. People of faith cannot be made second-class citizens."

Jim Taylor, president of the University of the Cumberlands, said: "The choice to interfere with religious hospitals, charities and schools with a mandate violating their religious views is disconcerting and will, in all probability, be totally counterproductive, further polarizing this nation."

I also heard from Bishop Ronald Gainer of the Catholic Diocese of Lexington, who said: "If we have an obligation to teach and give witness to the moral values that should shape our lives and inspire our society, then there is a corresponding obligation that we be allowed to follow and express freely those religious values ... . Any government effort to curtail that freedom is an offense that must be opposed."

I'm certain these leaders and the countless others from every religious community who've spoken up do not have a single view on the issue of contraception. But they do have a single view on the respect every religion deserves and the protection each is afforded in America.

For the protection of everyone who enjoys the freedom to worship how they wish, this mandate should be repealed.

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