Local religious leaders are concerned about a new federal insurance mandate that requires coverage of women's health services including birth control.
The Rev. Jamie Barona of St. Michael Catholic Church said the national health care law infringes on conscience and constitutional rights as the Catholic Church does not condone birth control.
"Those things are totally opposite to what we believe. So if the government is going to force me as a pastor to go to my employees and tell them that they should pay for those services is a contradiction to us. So that is infringing on my (First Amendment) right," Barona said.
Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, wrote in her blog that the Affordable Care Act will save money for millions of Americans and will ensure Americans get high-quality care. She said there has been some recent confusion as to how the policy will affect religious institutions.
Churches and houses of worship are exempt. Church-affiliated institutions such as hospitals and schools, however, will be required to offer the coverage. Health care providers are not forced to prescribe contraception, and abortion-inducing drugs are not covered by the policy. Munoz points out that no federal tax dollars are used for elective abortions.
"This decision was made after very careful consideration, including the important concerns some have raised about religious liberty," U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. "I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventative services."
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is urging all Catholics to contact their elected officials to reverse the ruling.
"Other Christian denominations are rallying with them because this is a situation of social injustice. This is not politics. This is not about health care. This is about conscience," Barona said.
Barona said everyone has the right to choose for themselves the values they uphold, but no one should be forced to do something contrary to their values.
This morning, he will pass out a letter written by Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory calling Catholics to fight the act. Gregory calls the decision "a matter of grave moral concern."
"At least we have the right to protest," Barona said. "We can stand up and say, ‘No, this is not right.' At least we have the constitutional right to voice our frustration."