Pastors and members of several Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod congregations will gather Tuesday to show support for the Catholic Church's opposition to federal Health and Human Services department rules requiring many religious institutions to provide employees with health insurance that includes contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.
“We see this HHS contraceptive mandate as an attack on freedom of religion,” said Christopher Barnekov, a member of St. Paul Lutheran Church on Barr Street who is helping to organize the event.
Plans call for pastors and congregation members — a group expected to include LCMS Indiana District President the Rev. Daniel May and the Rev. Charles Gieschen, academic dean at Concordia Theological Seminary — to gather at noon in the sanctuary at St. Paul Lutheran, 1126 Barr St.
They will bring with them letters of support for the Catholic Church's stand against the HHS policy. The letters have been signed by the congregations, individuals and LCMS groups, such as deaconesses, Barnekov said.
The group then will walk together the few blocks from St. Paul to the front steps of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Calhoun Street, Barnekov said. They will time their arrival so they meet Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and other Catholics as they exit about 12:40 p.m. from a noon Mass at the Cathedral.
Members of the LCMS group will present Rhoades with the letters of support and offer other brief words, Barnekov said.
Event organizers have made Rhoades aware of their plan, and he intends to greet them on the Cathedral steps, said Sean McBride, diocesan communications director.
Taking a stand
Barnekov is not sure how many people will make the walk from St. Paul to the Cathedral.
“We've never done anything like this before,” he said.
But he said about 400 people attended a Stand Up for Freedom rally on the Allen County Courthouse Green in late March to express opposition to the HHS insurance coverage policy.
The HHS rule likely wouldn't apply to church congregations, but it would impact church-run institutions serving the public, such as schools, hospitals and social-service agencies. Currently, the HHS policy is scheduled to take effect Aug. 1, but nonprofit organizations that don't offer such coverage for religious reasons have until Aug. 1, 2013, to comply.
Just as with the Catholic Church, the LCMS believes life begins at conception, and the denomination opposes being required to provide employees with health insurance including abortion-inducing drugs, said Barnekov, a retired federal official who formerly worked in policy analysis and rulemaking.
The LCMS has equal concern about the perceived threat to U.S. freedom of religion, he said.
The denomination already challenged a case involving government intervention in its selection of religious leaders and ministers, Barnekov said.
In January, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the denomination in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission case filed against Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School in Redford, Mich. The case involved a teacher and commissioned minister who became ill and then tried to force the school to take her back from disability leave, news reports said
The Supreme Court ruling recognized a “ministerial exception” to employment discrimination laws, and said churches and religious groups must have freedom to choose their leaders without government interference, the New York Times reported.