Evangelical and Jewish leaders declared their solidarity with Catholics on Feb. 10, as the Obama administration sought to quell controversy over its policy on contraception and religious ministries.
“Stories involving a Catholic, a Protestant and a Jew typically end with a punch line,” wrote Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C., Prison Fellowship founder Charles Colson, and Manhattan-based Orthodox Rabbi Meir Soloveichik in a Wall Street Journal editorial.
“We wish that were the case here, but what brings us together is no laughing matter: the threat now posed by government policy to that basic human freedom, religious liberty.”
They criticized Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for her Jan. 20 decision on religious employers' coverage of contraception, saying the rule “stands the First Amendment on its head.”
“Instead of encouraging the different faith communities to continue their vital work for the good of all, the Obama administration is forcing them to make a choice: serving God and their neighbors according to the dictates of their respective faiths – or bending the knee to the dictates of the state.”
The Jewish and Evangelical leaders joined Washington's archbishop in opposing the administration's attempt to require religious ministries – including schools, hospitals, charities, and media outlets – to subsidize contraception, sterilization, and abortion-causing drugs in their health plans.
Only ministries that primarily served and employed members of their own faith, for the sake of promoting “religious values,” were to be held exempt from the rule.
After three weeks of uproar, led by over 170 Catholic bishops, the administration announced a new policy on Feb. 10.
In place of the policy forcing many religious ministries to purchase plans covering contraception and sterilization, the new rule shifts the burden to these institutions' insurance providers – requiring them to offer the “preventive services” without a co-pay.
The administration claimed that under the new policy, “religious organizations will not be required to subsidize the cost of contraception.”
But critics said the administration was only shifting the subsidy, by forcing religious employers to contract with insurance providers offering the controversial services.
Catholic League President Bill Donohue responded to Friday's revised rule by predicting the president would soon see Catholics “team with Protestants, Jews, Mormons and others to recapture their First Amendment rights.”
Friday's editorial from Colson, Soloveichik, and Cardinal Wuerl offered a preview of that prospect, as they explained that the administration's attempt to mandate contraception coverage was not just offensive to Catholics.
“Coverage of this story has almost invariably been framed as a conflict between the federal government and the Catholic bishops,” they observed. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
“Under no circumstances should people of faith violate their consciences and discard their most cherished religious beliefs in order to comply with a gravely unjust law. That's something that this Catholic, this Protestant and this Jew are in perfect agreement about.”
Two days earlier, Colson co-authored a Christianity Today editorial with Beeson Divinity School Dean Timothy George, stressing Evangelicals' duty to unite with Catholics against the contraception mandate.
In their column “First They Came for the Catholics,” George and Colson said Evangelical Christians “must stand unequivocally with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. Because when the government violates the religious liberty of one group, it threatens the religious liberty of all.”