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.”