To the editor:
The religious liberty controversy that has been raging on the national scene for nearly two years has come to the Susquehanna Valley. Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Lancaster-based firm with two factories in Snyder County, is among several companies and nonprofit organizations attempting to avoid a key element of the Obama administration's health policy.
In 2011, the Obama administration issued what is referred to as the Health and Human Services mandate. This mandate requires that contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs be covered in all employer-provided health plans. While some media attention has been given to the mandate's threat to religious institutions that must now find a product contrary to their moral beliefs, little attention has been given to private employers who also wish to practice their faith freely. Many of these are now being asked to violate their consciences in providing health care that meets the guidelines.
Conestoga Wood Specialties and its owners, the Hahn family, filed a federal suit seeking protection against the federal mandate. They do not believe that destroying human life by abortion-producing drugs ought to be part of their company-provided health care. It is not just a minor matter of personal opinion, but a matter of life and death to them. The owners of Conestoga as well as many other business owners and a large percentage of the American population see this as an issue of the sanctity and nobility of human life.
The United States Congress passed what is known as the Hyde Amendment for decades to insure that no taxpayer would be forced to be involved in funding what many consider to be the death industry which is abortion. The current administration has taken an end run around this respect for individual conscience to force Americans to pay for this practice by including it in its health care policy.
The Administration has been forced to make some exceptions for religious institutions but the freedom of religion concerns go much farther than just religious institutions and churches. They have callously ignored the consciences and concerns of many, if not most, Americans in their actions.
Promises not to impose this kind of disrespect for human life allowed the Obamacare legislation to squeak by in the first place. Now those promises have been almost totally ignored. Another major national employer that has challenged this infringement by the federal government is Hobby Lobby. Again, this is a beneficial employer of thousands which desires to keep a clear conscience on this matter.
Randall Wenger, chief counsel of Independence Law Center has stated, "No one should be forced to violate their conscience and religious beliefs in the way they run their business." He went on to say, "The free exercise of religion, guaranteed in the First Amendment, is not something confined to the four walls of a church. In America, our Constitution guarantees to all the freedom to live out our faith according to our conscience in all areas of life."
Charles Proctor III, lead counsel in the Conestoga case stated, "As government grows and pervades every detail of life, we risk what happened in this case: The government telling citizens that they need to subsidize something as controversial as drugs and devices that can result in the death of a new human life - government must know that this creates a moral dilemma for millions of religious employers like the Hahn family. Government should not be in the business of micromanaging our lives in this way."
Our country is increasingly on a divided path. Consequently, those who have little or no religious faith, or whose beliefs conflict with traditional Judeo-Christian values are looking for more and more places to suppress religious freedom. We have seen an increasing number of clashes over a variety of religious expressions from the displays of crosses, Nativity scenes, and the Ten Commandments, to prayer in public gatherings and other public references to God.
Those who hold the Judeo-Christian values provide innumerable benefits to our society from encouraging good citizenship to the respect of all human beings as created as equal in the image of God, to the innumerable ventures both here and abroad. The Christian community responds to emergency needs of our country as quickly and effectively, if not more so, than our government agencies as seen in the aftermath of recent disastrous storms.
It is not to the benefit of our community to suppress the activities of Christian people who desire to freely and openly express their faith in word and action.
The federal government must be kept in check by the courts when it attempts to restrict the freedoms of its citizens, especially the freedom of religion, our very first right in the Bill of Rights. Since there is no compelling reason to excuse this imposition, the courts have a responsibility to stand up for the protection of religious liberty.
Rev. Glen Bayly
Mifflinburg Alliance Church