Religious Freedom Under Attack

The government of the United States is forcing us to violate our conscience and that is unacceptable.
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America has a very long tradition of freedom. We cherish these freedoms like, the freedom of speech, freedom of religion and until recently, freedom of choice. I will admit right up front that I voted for President Obama because, like many, I believed we needed change. Well I now feel I was duped and his brand of change is not what America needs at all.

As an Orthodox priest and an American I believe in traditional family values like marriage, family, saving one's self for that person we plan to spend the rest of our life with -- in other words I believe in Christian values as proscribed not only by my Church's tradition but by Holy Scripture itself.

On Jan. 20th it was announced by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that the religious exemption on certain parts of the health care plan would not continue and now religious organizations, like the church, would have to supply health insurance that provides coverage for contraception and abortion. The Roman Catholic Church has been carrying most of the water on this fight and as usual our Orthodox Bishops are silent on this. We have an opportunity here to make our voice heard but we are more concerned with territory and language than we are with issues that affect real people! It is time for our bishops to wake up and speak out. Our people are confused and need to hear their voices loud and clear.

Called the "contraception mandate" it requires private insurance to provide access, at no out-of-pocket expense, to contraceptive drugs such as RU 486. Under this plan, people with heart disease, cancer, diabetes or other health issues will continue to pay or co-pay for their prescription drugs, but people who wish to purchase contraceptive drugs will have no out-of-pocket expense.

I have no issue with the choices you make, you make those choices and you have to deal with consequences but this plan will in effect force me to pay for behavior that my religion calls unacceptable. There has always been an exemption for religious organizations for issues such as these. Prior to this ruling for example the insurance that the Roman Catholic Church offered to her employees did not have to cover abortion or contraception -- now that will not be the case. The government of the United States is forcing us to violate our conscience and that is unacceptable. The Obama administration's witch hunt against religion needs to stop!

I am a firm believer that in a country as wealthy as ours, something needs to be done about the out of control cost of health care. To live in a country that develops a majority of the procedures and medications that save lives but at the same time are out of reach of a majority of American is unconscionable. But I am not willing to trade my religious freedom either. There is no Constitutional right to health care but there is a Constitutional right to the free exercise of religion.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan, President of the United States Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops, said at a recent press conference held on this topic, "Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience." He continued, "This shouldn't happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights."

Roman Catholics are not the only ones speaking out on this issue. In December the National Association of Evangelicals sent a letter to President Obama expressing their dissatisfaction with this mandate; "the Federal government is obligated by the First Amendment to accommodate the religious convictions of faith-based organizations of all kinds."

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Notice that the 1st Amendment starts with the freedom of religion. The framers of the Constitution placed this first even before freedom of speech, press, or assembly of the people! Religion was protected first, until the Obama Administration decided to throw it out the window and attack.

This is a direct attack on religious freedom in American and the start of a slippery slope to more regulations attacking the faith of Americans. In recent years it has become totally acceptable to attack religion and if we, the religious people in America, do not stand up and make our voice heard, including the Orthodox Bishops in America, we will see our rights eroded away. This is only the start of a change in America that I cannot accept.

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