A letter to the White House says exempting some but not all faith-based institutions from new insurance rules sets up a “two-class” concept of religion.

By Bob Allen

Nearly 150 faith leaders wrote Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius June 11 protesting the administration’s requirement that faith-based employers include contraceptive coverage for women in their health-care plans.

The Affordable Health Care Act, also known as Obamacare, requires that beginning Aug. 1 all health insurance policies cover preventive services for women including contraception. Churches that oppose birth control on moral grounds are exempt, but religiously affiliated institutions like hospitals and universities that serve the general public have until August 2013 to comply.

The June 11 letter organized by the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance said the rule sets up a “two-class concept of religious organizations” between those that focus inward in houses of worship and those that express their faith in outward service to their communities.

“The scheme honors acts of worship while burdening those whose faith leads them to service in our common life,” the letter said. “Among its many troublesome aspects, the scheme moves us further toward an unconstitutional, unhistorical, and unhealthy naked public square.”

Signers included representatives of colleges and universities, associations of schools, legal organizations, church leaders and domestic and international service organizations, both Protestant and Catholic. While they have different opinions about the morality of contraception, they agree that both worship-oriented and service-oriented organizations are equally religious, and the government has no business deciding what constitutes “true religion and authentic ministry.”

The letter urged the White House to “eliminate the two-class scheme of religious organization in the preventive services regulations” and extend the same exemption currently limited to churches to other faith-based service organizations as well.

Signers included Christianity Today Editor David Neff, Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action, Leith Anderson of the National Association of Evangelicals and Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Other Baptists signing the letter included Paul Corts, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities; Joe Aguillard, president of Louisiana College; Lee Royce, president of Mississippi College; Pat Taylor, president of Southwest Baptist University; David Dockery, president of Union University; Mark Foley, president of the University of Mobile; and Robert McCleland, CEO of the North American Baptist Conference.

While most Southern Baptists are not opposed to birth control in general, many object to the use of “morning-after” or “Plan B” pills that take effect after fertilization — which they consider a form of abortion — that are included in the HHS mandate.