NEW YORK, NY, February 6, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – The 65 canonical bishops of the Orthodox Church have asked President Barack Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to repeal the mandate that religious institutions provide birth control, sterilization, and Plan B abortion drugs in their health care coverage.

The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America – which represents 12 Orthodox jurisdictions and three million Orthodox Christians in the United States –  issued a press release last Thursday calling the HHS ruling a violation of religious conscience.

“The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion,” the statement says. “This freedom is transgressed when a religious institution is required to pay for ‘contraceptive services’ including abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization services that directly violate their religious convictions.”

“Providing such services should not be regarded as mandated medical care. We, the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops, call upon HHS Secretary Sebelius and the Obama Administration to rescind this unjust ruling and to respect the religious freedom guaranteed all Americans by the First Amendment.”

The bishops urged the faithful to take action. The statement calls upon “all the Orthodox Christian faithful to contact their elected representatives today to voice their concern in the face of this threat to the sanctity of the Church’s conscience.”

Influential leaders in the Orthodox Church expressed their appreciation that the bishops had spoken out. “The statement issued by the Orthodox bishops reflects a welcome voice in the public square that has too often been silent due to our unhappy divisions as American Orthodox Christians,” said Fr. Chad Hatfield, the president of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, New York, in a statement e-mailed to LifeSiteNews.com.

Fr. Peter-Michael Preble, an Orthodox priest and writer in Massachusetts agreed, “I don’t think we should shy about controversial topics.” Fr. Preble wrote an article in The Huffington Post asking the hierarchy of his church to publicly address the subject. “This seemed to be more of a national issue that the bishops as a whole had to say something about, and they weren’t, and I was afraid we were losing ground,” he told LifeSiteNews.com. “The Roman Catholic bishops were carrying the majority water on this issue and taking the brunt of the heat, and I just thought we had to do something.”

After reading the statement, Fr. Preble said, “I’m very pleased with the fact that [the bishops] did speak out, and I hope that this is the start of other statements that they will make about other issues, as well.”

The nation’s Orthodox Christians join a growing number of non-Catholics who had officially opposed the contraception mandate, which religious institutions will be required to observe by next August. Dr. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said on his daily podcast last Tuesday that any law requiring people of faith to violate their conscience “is not only a Catholic issue…our religious liberty is being similarly subverted and attacked.”

Late last year 60 religious leaders, mostly Protestants as well as two Orthodox Jewish spokesmen, signed a letter to President Obama, stating, “It is emphatically not only Catholics who deeply object to the requirement that health plans they purchase must provide coverage of contraceptives that include some that are abortifacients.”

The Orthodox Church is the second largest church in the world. The North American bishops posted their press release last Thursday, the date Orthodox Christians celebrate the presentation of the Christ Child in the Temple.

Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America was traveling and was not immediately available for comment.

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The statement reads in full:

The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America, which is comprised of the 65 canonical Orthodox bishops in the United States, Canada and Mexico, join their voices with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and all those who adamantly protest the recent decision by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, and call upon all the Orthodox Christian faithful to contact their elected representatives today to voice their concern in the face of this threat to the sanctity of the Church’s conscience.

In this ruling by HHS, religious hospitals, educational institutions, and other organizations will be required to pay for the full cost of contraceptives (including some abortion-inducing drugs) and sterilizations for their employees, regardless of the religious convictions of the employers.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion. This freedom is transgressed when a religious institution is required to pay for “contraceptive services” including abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization services that directly violate their religious convictions. Providing such services should not be regarded as mandated medical care.  We, the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops, call upon HHS Secretary Sebelius and the Obama Administration to rescind this unjust ruling and to respect the religious freedom guaranteed all Americans by the First Amendment.


Contact Information:
The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America