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Threats to Religious Liberty

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WASHINGTON and NEW YORK—The last couple months, says Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren, have been a “perfect storm” for the erosion of religious liberty. He cites New York City’s ban on churches meeting in public schools (which tossed two Saddleback-planted churches out of their places of worship), the court decision overturning Proposition 8, and the Obama administration’s mandate that employer-provided insurance pay for employees’ contraceptives, which affects Saddleback-affiliated organizations because they self-insure.

“We’re at a flash point right now that’s different than ever before in terms of the eroding of religious freedom,” Warren said. “Christians ought to be alarmed.” Though Warren doesn’t oppose contraceptives, he said, “I stand in 100 percent solidarity with the Catholic Church on this issue.”

Catholics and evangelicals have found themselves fighting side by side in these battles, especially in the battle over the contraceptive mandate. Religious leaders see in these controversies an opportunity to change the perception of religious freedom as a private or individual right and to show that the full scope of the church’s work reaches beyond a worship service. The federal contraceptive mandate, part of the new healthcare law’s requirement that insurance must cover preventive services (including drugs that cause abortions) with no co-pay, carves out a religious exemption—but only for churches. Other religious organizations and other employers with religious concerns have no conscience protections. (The administration has promised an “accommodation” to make insurers the ones who pay for contraceptives for employees at religious organizations, but many religious leaders have dismissed that proposal as mere wordplay.)

One alliance between evangelical and Catholic leaders that has now become a united front on religious freedom issues began in the Metropolitan Club in New York in 2008. The three founders of the alliance—Prison Fellowship’s Chuck Colson, Princeton University’s Robert George, and Beeson Divinity School’s Timothy George (no relation to Robert)—met at the club to discuss what would become the Manhattan Declaration, a document released in 2009 on life, marriage, and religious liberty that over a half million people have now signed.

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