Franciscan University professor signs open letter asking for religious liberty

STEUBENVILLE – A diverse coalition of national religious leaders and scholars, including Franciscan University of Steubenville sociology professor Anne Hendershott, spoke out against the finalized version of the Health and Human Services Mandate at a press conference Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

In a signed letter titled “Standing Together for Religious Freedom,” the religious leaders called upon the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to expand conscience protections to cover any organization or individual that has religious or moral objections to covering, providing or enabling access to the mandated contraceptive drugs and services.

Speaking at the press conference were Archbishop William E. Lori, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; Yuri Mantilla, chairman of the Justice Initiative of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; and Hendershott, a professor in the psychology, sociology and social work department at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Hendershott said the HHS mandate provides insurance coverage for abortion inducing drugs such as Ella and Plan B, contraceptives and sterilization procedures.

“This mandate will require me, as a faithful Catholic, to purchase insurance that my church teaches is seriously immoral,” said Hendershott, noting the mandate “forces me and my religious employer to pay for or facilitate access to products and services that are in opposition to our deeply held moral and religious beliefs.”

Hendershott singled out a less-publicized aspect of the HHS mandate “that allows the minor children of employees of ‘accommodated’ religious institutions to avail themselves of contraceptives, sterilization or abortifacient drugs without their parents’ knowledge.

“Those of us who work on Catholic campuses, or other Christian institutions, disagree. We have already been injured by this unjust mandate because our constitutional right to religious freedom has already been compromised. The refusal by the Obama administration to classify religious institutions like Franciscan or Notre Dame as religious employers has already compromised our religious rights. There is every indication that this will escalate,” said Hendershott

The open letter presented at the press conference was signed by 61 religious representatives of many faiths, including some signatories that do not hold doctrinal objections to the use of contraception, yet protested the mandate “for its encroachment on the conscience of our fellow citizens.”

In May 2012, Franciscan University of Steubenville sued the federal government stating the HHS mandate constituted a grave threat to Franciscan University’s ability to continue teaching from the heart of the church. Franciscan’s lawsuit was one of 12 lawsuits filed concurrently by 43 Catholic organizations, dioceses and archdioceses.