By Kim Plummer Krull
LCMS Life and Health Ministries Director Maggie Karner said she hopes her participation in a Feb. 27 panel discussion in Washington, D.C., helps spotlight what she calls the “real issue” behind the controversial mandate recently issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
“This is not just a Roman Catholic issue. It’s not just about birth control or just about women. It’s about the threat to religious freedom and all Americans’ basic, fundamental rights,” Karner said, referring to the HHS ruling requiring nearly all private health plans, even those offered by religious organizations, to cover contraceptives, including abortion-causing drugs.
In a telephone interview after the forum, Karner said she hopes the discussion sponsored by The Heritage Foundation and the National Review Institute also helps underscore the important role faith-based organizations such as the LCMS historically have played in “basically shaping what our American health-care system looks like today.”
“Thousands of faith-based, non-profit hospitals all across the nation have grown out of how religious people care for others outside their sanctuary walls, in society’s neediest places,” Karner said after the discussion, which was streamed live online by the LCMS. (View the panel discussion and a post-panel interview with Karner by Melanie Ave, LCMS Public Relations coordinator, at www.lcms.org/hhsmandate.)
During her opening remarks at the event, Karner stressed that “religious folks have some street cred [credibility] to bring to the table when we’re talking about public health and the good of our society.”
“Faith-based organizations, no matter what the denomination or the creed, have a long history and a vested interest in our society, and we have much to contribute in the future,” she said. “We can be a valuable asset to the government as we help to address all the needs in our society. But we can only do so if we’re given the freedom to work within the framework of our beliefs. This anti-conscience mandate doesn’t allow that. It strips us of the protection of our First Amendment rights.”
Karner highlighted the Synod’s long history of diakonia, or service, to people in the United States and around the world, including caring for the “unmet needs of thousands of people in Third World countries” and donating more than $1 million of needed pharmaceuticals in recent years in some of the world’s most impoverished communities.
Karner was one of five women tapped for the panel, which also included Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-N.Y) as the featured speaker.
Also on Feb. 27, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and archbishop of New York, signed a statement rejecting the HHS mandate, joining more than 500 leading scholars, university presidents and other academic administrators, activists and religious leaders from a multitude of faiths.
That action followed a lawsuit filed Feb. 23 in the U.S. District Court in Nebraska by seven state attorneys general to block a health-reform law provision designed, according to the complaint, to coerce religious organizations into subsidizing contraception, sterilization and abortion in violation of the organizations’ religious beliefs. In addition to Nebraska, attorneys general joining in the case are from South Carolina, Michigan, Texas, Florida, Ohio and Oklahoma. Other plaintiffs include a Catholic high school and employees of Catholic organizations.
The previous week, LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison testified before Congress alongside Roman Catholic, evangelical Christian and Jewish leaders, expressing the Synod’s opposition to the HHS mandate. In no uncertain terms, Harrison told committee members on Feb. 16 that “religious people determine what violates their consciences, not the federal government.”
The faculty of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., also responded to the HHS mandate, adopting a statement titled “A Whole New Can of Worms” on Feb. 21. (Click here to read the statement.)
After the Washington forum, Karner urged fellow Americans who share her distress about government intrusion into religious freedom to contact their legislators. “It is so important that we make our voices heard,” she said in the telephone interview.
The controversial mandate adds to the significance of a pro-life advocacy conference Karner and LCMS Life Ministries are planning for Jan. 26, 2013, in Washington, D.C. The event will follow the annual March for Life and focus on “healthy and God-pleasing ways for Lutherans to speak on public policy and the sanctity of life.”
For more information about the conference, visit www.lcmslifeconference.org.
Kim Plummer Krull is a freelance writer and a member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Des Peres, Mo.
Posted Feb. 29, 2012