The fierce backlash from some evangelical Christian leaders to President Obama's sensible decision to cover contraception services under the health care reform law brings to mind Groucho Marx's definition of politics: "The art of looking for trouble, finding it, misdiagnosing it, and then misapplying the wrong remedies."
Christian mega-pastor Rick Warren is willing to engage in civil disobedience. The National Association of Evangelicals is reportedly considering asking pastors of every evangelical denomination to read an open letter to their congregations calling the requirement to make birth control for women available without co-pays an attack on religious liberty -- despite an exemption for religious institutions affiliated with faiths that forbid contraception. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, insists there is "no compromise."
As an evangelical leader, I've been involved in defending religious freedom for three decades. Compromise is not always a moral failure in a pluralistic society. In an election year, we must also distinguish between real attacks on faith and cheap demagoguery to score political points. GOP presidential candidates who have been assailing President Obama's supposed "war on religion" should be ashamed of themselves. This irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric makes a mockery of the victims of real wars and unconscionable religious persecution around the world.
The fact is the Obama administration listened to concerns raised in response to an initial ruling that exempted houses of worship but not religious hospitals, schools or social service providers to the new contraception coverage rule, and crafted a common-ground solution that protects both religious liberty and women's health. No religiously affiliated institutions will have to pay for these services or even refer employees to this coverage. Instead, if a woman's employer is an objecting religious institution, her insurer will be the party required to enter into a separate contract to offer contraception coverage at no cost. Christian leaders concerned about protecting religious liberty rather than broadly restricting contraception should be satisfied with this accommodation.
Remember that under the health care reform law all insurance plans are required to cover a host of preventive services at no cost -- check-ups, mammograms, immunizations and cancer screenings. This will help save lives and control health-care costs. The non-partisan National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine recommended including birth control under these covered services. The Obama administration was wise to listen to the advice of the nation's leading medical experts.
While Catholic bishops and some evangelical leaders continue to thunder against even the revised solution that defends religious liberty and women's health, other religious leaders have expressed appreciation to the Obama administration for acting quickly to address concerns. The Catholic Health Association, representing more than 600 hospitals and 1,400 long-term care health facilities, welcomed the revisions.
Catholic bishops are now appearing to move the goal posts. They even want Catholics who own a business with no religious purpose -- a Taco Bell, for example -- to be exempt from providing contraception coverage under health care plans. Worse, the bishops and some of their evangelical allies even supported Republican-sponsored legislation that would have allowed all employers to refuse to cover any service they find morally objectionable. The Senate appropriately rejected this legislation that would have put the health of American families at the mercy of employers who have economic incentives to deny crucial medical services.
Let's not allow the political noise of an election year to distract us from basic facts or reject pragmatic solutions that will help the American people.
Rev. Richard Cizik served for ten years as vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, a post he left in 2008. In 2002, Cizik was a participant in Climate Forum 2002, at Oxford, England, which produced the "Oxford Declaration" on global warming. In 2005, the New York Times dubbed him the "Earthy Evangelist" for his advocacy on climate change, and in 2008 he was named to TIME Magazine's list of the "TIME 100" most influential people.
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