By Kim Plummer Krull
In a statement issued Feb. 3, Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison staunchly opposed the recent U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) ruling requiring religious employers to cover contraceptives, including controversial drugs that can kill unborn babies. He called attention to increasingly “overzealous government intrusions” into religious freedom.
“We believe this is a violation of our First Amendment rights,” Harrison said in the statement. He encouraged fellow LCMS members to “join with me in supporting efforts to preserve our essential right to exercise our religious beliefs.”
Harrison’s statement followed the Jan. 20 announcement by HHS that nearly all employers – including religious charities, hospitals and schools – will be required for the first time by law to provide and pay for insurance coverage that includes contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization procedures.
“This action by HHS will have the effect of forcing many religious organizations to choose between following the letter of the law and operating within the framework of their religious tenets,” Harrison said. “We add our voice to the long list of those championing for the continued ability to act according to the dictates of their faith, and provide compassionate care and clear Christian witness to society’s most vulnerable, without being discriminated against by government.”
The Synod’s benefits partner, Concordia Plan Services (CPS), has been monitoring health care reform legislation, Harrison said, and, as a result, Concordia Health Plan (CHP, the LCMS church workers’ health plan) has been maintained as a “grandfathered” plan.
That means employers and workers participating in CHP would not be subjected to the mandate, Harrison said.
James F. Sanft, CPS president and CEO, said the benefits partner’s decision to maintain grandfathered status has been validated in light of the HHS mandate. “CPS is committed to maintaining Plans consistent with both our theological beliefs and fiduciary responsibilities,” Sanft said in an email. “We are very concerned about any government intrusion impacting how we serve our members.”
Echoing Harrison, Maggie Karner, director of LCMS Life and Health Ministries, said the impact of the HHS ruling goes beyond contraception matters. The mandate, she said, “is not simply about the availability of contraceptives and abortifacients, as the media would like people to think.”
“In actuality, this is a much broader issue with far-reaching implications and is primarily a question of religious liberty. This is really about how much the government can force religious institutions to engage in, and fund actions, against their religious beliefs, with no recourse and no conscience protection.” Karner said in an email.
To read Harrison’s complete statement, click here.
Kim Plummer Krull is a freelance writer and member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Des Peres, Mo.
Posted Feb. 4, 2012