Professor testifies on Capitol Hill

Dr. C. Ben Mitchell, Graves professor of moral philosophy, represents Union and Baptists during the hearing, ‘Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?’ Mitchell is sworn in to testify. | Photo submitted by The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

By Grace Ferrell, News Editor

Dr. C. Ben Mitchell, Graves professor of moral philosophy, testi­fied before a congres­sional committee Feb. 16 concerning one of the nation’s heated de­bates regarding a man­date requiring religious organizations to provide contraceptive and abor­tifacient coverage for employees.

“Contrary to portray­als in some of the popu­lar media, this is not only a Catholic issue,” Mitch­ell said during the hear­ing. “All people of faith — and even those who claim no faith — have a stake in whether or not the government can vio­late the consciences of its citizenry.

“Religious liberty and the freedom to obey one’s conscience is also not just a Baptist issue. It is an American issue that is enshrined in our founding documents.”

The hearing was titled “Lines Crossed: Separa­tion of Church and State. Has the Obama Admin­istration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?”

“I am both honored and humbled to testify in support of the pro­tection of religious free­dom and liberty of con­science,” Mitchell said. “I am honored because I have the privilege of following in the legacy of my Baptist forebears who were such stalwart defenders of religious freedom. I am humbled because many of those forebears suffered and died so that you and I could live in a nation with religious freedom from state coercion.”

Mitchell was asked to testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform after Sen. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), com­mittee chair­man, read an article Mitchell had written on the topic, said Dr. Gregory A. Thornbury, pro­fessor of philos­ophy, theology and missions and dean of the School of Theology and Missions.

Among the panel of 11 witnesses were Craig Mitchell, associ­ate professor of ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; William Lori, a Roman Catholic bishop; Mat­thew Harrison, president of the Luther­an Church-Missouri Synod; and Rabbi Meir So­loveichik.

“I think it is a significant moment for Union,” Thorn­bury said.

“To have a faculty mem­ber testify­ing before Congress is a significant marker in the role of what the uni­versity is doing in terms of its commitment to cultural engagement. I can’t think of any better exemplar way than testi­fying before Congress on the most pressing issue in the news this week.”

Objections arose to the all-male panel of clergy members at the hearing and caused some female representatives to walk out in protest.

A letter from Issa’s staff defended the choice of witnesses for the pan­el by concluding that the hearing “is not about reproductive rights but instead about the ad­ministration’s actions as they relate to freedom of religion and conscience.”

Thornbury said, “The other side (of the issue) was portraying it as a de­bate over contraception. The issue is: Can you have a religious exemp­tion from government mandates? It’s a First Amendment issue.”

The mandate origi­nally required employers to provide preventative-care services to women, including contracep­tives. While churches could opt out, faith-based universities and hospitals had to com­ply. Backlash forced the Obama administration to tweak the mandate.

Under the new regu­lation, employees of faith-based institutions who protest contracep­tives can have insurance companies pay for the services.

“The Obama adminis­tration’s most recent so-called ‘accommodation’ for religious organiza­tions is no accommoda­tion at all,” Mitchell said. “It is a bait-and-switch scheme of the most egre­gious sort.”

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