By Jack Smith
Catholic Key Editor
KANSAS CITY – Leaders of more than 50 church organizations, businesses, non-profits and public interest groups gathered at Union Station Sept. 21 in common cause to support religious liberty.
Event organizer Joshua McCaig cited numerous current challenges to the free exercise of religion as impetus for creating the Summit including, “the forcing of religious citizens and organizations opposed to contraception to participate in unethical insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act, to the Internal Revenue Service specifically targeting religious organizations and even to attacks on the right of citizens to speak freely of religion and worship in public.”
McCaig is a Kansas City based attorney and National Lawyers Association board member who has been active in many Catholic organization, including the Catholic Charities Foundation Board, the Missouri Catholic Conference Public Policy Committee, and as founder of the Catholic Lawyers Guild of Kansas City. Through that experience, he has seen many individual organizations fighting for religious liberty “one battle at a time”.
McCaig said that “unless we join together as a single body, united under this common cause, we stand little chance of turning the cultural shift” which has resulted in so many “assaults on this most important of rights under our Constitution.” To that end, the Summit served to bring leaders in the fight for religious liberty, across denominational lines, together to get to know each other, hear presentations on various aspects of religious liberty, make a common declaration and lay the groundwork for future cooperation.
Presentations included an update on the HHS contraception mandate by Kevin Theroit of the Alliance Defending Freedom; ‘Is there a future for conscience rights in health care’ by Catholic Medical Association Executive Director John Brehany, Ph.D., STL; an historical review of religious liberty by Thomas More Society President Tom Brejcha; the interaction of privacy and religious liberty rights by attorney Eddie Greim; and a consideration of strategies for the future by National Lawyers Association President John Farnan.
Much of the discussion throughout the day focused on the threat posed by the HHS contraception rule on privately owned businesses. Currently, only churches are exempted from providing contraceptive and abortifacient drugs in their employee health plans. Church-related organizations and ministries which are not themselves churches must offer contraceptives and abortifacient drugs in their employee health plans without directly paying for it. However, private companies like Sioux Chief Manufacturing owned by the devoutly Catholic Ismert family of Kansas City must both provide and directly pay for contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs for their employees.
The injustice of the disparity in allowing for religious freedom for churches, but not private businesses posed by the HHS rule was hit head on by keynote speaker Professor Hadley Arkes at a dinner lecture closing the Summit conference. Arkes is the Edward Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College who is known beyond his many books and published articles, as the main advocate and architect of the Born-Alive Infants’ Protection Act.
Arkes argued as well, that there is no reason to privilege the conscience of a religious conviction over a moral conviction and that any with moral objections to the HHS rule ought to be exempted. Suppose there are two businesses whose proprietors both oppose the mandates of the HHS rule on abortifacients, Arkes posed. “One is Catholic, whose understanding has been informed by the Catholic reasoning . . .the other man claims no religious attachment,” Arkes said, “He’s formed his moral objection to abortion solely on the grounds of the same principled reasoning that the Church teaches as a teaching from natural law.
“Would we actually say that the Catholic businessman has a stronger claim to challenge the law on grounds of religious freedom when his reasoning was in no way different from that of the businessman who reached his moral conclusion with precisely the same weave of empirical evidence and moral reasoning used by the Church,” Arkes asked. “Are the claims distinguishable on any grounds that matter,” he asked.
The first Religious Liberty Summit was sponsored by the National Lawyers Association, the Thomas More Society public interest law firm and two businesses which have won successful temporary injunctions against the implementation of the HHS rule forcing all non-church employers to provide contraceptive and abortifacient drugs in their employee health plans – Sioux Chief Manufacturing and Chicago based Triune Health Group.
Among the participants were six administrators and faculty from Benedictine College in Atchison. Benedictine President Stephen Minnis told the Key that Benedictine had such strong participation, “because the college sees religious liberty as a preeminent issue in the life of the Church today.”
Leaders at the Summit plan on continuing events and cooperative efforts for religious liberty. Visit religiouslibertysummit.com to learn more or to support their work.