“The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America, which is comprised of the 65 canonical Orthodox bishops in the United States, Canada and Mexico, join their voices with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and all those who adamantly protest the recent decision by the United States Department of Health and Human Services,” the Orthodox bishops wrote in a Feb. 2 statement.
The Orthodox bishops said that the “unjust” ruling by the Obama administration violated the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom by forcing religious institutions to pay for contraceptive and other services that they believe are morally objectionable.
“The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion,” says the statement. “This freedom is transgressed when a religious institution is required to pay for ‘contraceptive services,’ including abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization services that directly violate their religious convictions.”
The Orthodox bishops called on Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to rescind the regulation and to respect the religious beliefs of all Americans.
“We, the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops, call upon HHS Secretary Sebelius and the Obama Administration to rescind this unjust ruling and to respect the religious freedom guaranteed all Americans by the First Amendment,” says the statement.
The administration issued a final ruling in December that it would not exempt religious organizations that do not primarily employ members of their own faith, such as religious hospitals, colleges, and charities. Essentially, only those who work directly for a church or a seminary might be exempt from the regulation.
At Catholic church services the past two weeks, priests have read letters from Church officials decrying the regulation. One such letter, read in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Arlington, Va., said, “In so ruling, the administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our nation’s first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty. And as a result, unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled either to violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so).”
The White House has defended the decision by saying it believes that women “deserve” access to contraceptive services, no matter where they work.
“I understand that there have been objections and that some people disagree with us and we are going to work with institutions that have concerns here,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Feb. 6. “But I think it’s important to note here that we believe these services are important and that American women deserve to have access to that kind of insurance coverage regardless of where they work.”