The panel was held to mark the release of an open letter, "Standing Together for Religious Freedom," signed by Archbishop Lori and more than 100 other religious leaders and scholars from a variety of faith traditions.
The letter emphasized the risks to religious freedom posed by the Obama administration's HHS mandate, which requires nearly all employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can cause early-stage abortions.
Many faith-based organizations and religious individuals running for-profit businesses have sued the government over the mandate, which they say violates their First Amendment right to religious freedom. Failure to comply with the regulation results in large fines that could be devastating for the businesses.
Yuri Mantilla, chairman of the Justice Initiative of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, explained that the mandate threatens religious freedom by forcing "religious believers to make a choice between obeying the law and violating deeply held religious beliefs; or obeying fundamental religious and moral norms and disobeying the governmental mandate."
The signers of the letter asked the administration to "at a minimum, expand conscience protections under the mandate to cover any organization or individual that has religious or moral objections to covering, providing or enabling access to the mandated drugs and services."
They also call on Congress to implement legislation protecting against religious freedom violations.
Sociology professor Anne Hendershott of Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, said that despite the government's assertions that the mandate does not injure religious non-profit organizations – such as the Catholic university where she works – the mandate in actuality has caused harm and threatens to cause more harm.