In Face of Lawsuits Secular Coalition Supports HHS Contraception Rule

WASHINGTON, DC--The Secular Coalition for America today expressed disappointment at the 43 Catholic institutions that filed 12 lawsuits against the Obama administration yesterday.

Through these lawsuits, the Catholic organizations involved and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has spearheaded efforts to overturn the HHS rule, continue to promote a false definition of religious freedom and seek to push their religious beliefs on employees.

The Secular Coalition maintains that it is those seeking exemptions from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulation, not the HHS that is infringing upon the religious liberty of others, by asking for religious privileging from the government in order to shirk compliance with a United States law that provides free contraception through health insurance coverage.

“The religious organizations that filed these suits are attempting to exempt themselves from the laws of our society and impose their religious beliefs on employees,” said Edwina Rogers, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America.  “The Supreme Court has affirmed time after time, that individual religious beliefs do not supersede the laws of the government.  We live in a pluralistic society, with a secular government.  Religious liberty does not give any religious group the right to impose its particular brand of religion on others, or ignore the law–especially while accepting taxpayer funding.”

The Supreme Court first ruled that the government’s laws overruled religious belief over 130 years ago and has upheld its position in several subsequent rulings:

  • In the 1878 case Reynolds vs. the United States, the Court’s decision read, “Can a man excuse his practices to the contrary because of his religious belief? To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself. Government could exist only in name under such circumstances."
  • In the 1986 case, Bowen v. Roy, the court ruled that, “The Free Exercise Clause simply cannot be understood to require the Government to conduct its own internal affairs in ways that comport with the religious beliefs of particular citizens.”
  • In 1990, in the case of Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, the court’s decision read, “Subsequent decisions have consistently held that the right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a “valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes (or prescribes) conduct that his religion prescribes (or proscribes).””

The HHS rule does not violate the Free Exercise clause, as it is a neutral law of general applicability based upon valid medical benefits for contraception and independent scientific documentation citing the benefits of contraceptive coverage, and is not targeted at a specific religious exercise:

  • There are demonstrated preventative health benefits from contraceptives relating to pregnancy as well as other non-pregnancy related conditions such as ovarian cancer, pelvic pain, endometriosis, ovarian cysts, metrorrhagia (abnormal uterine bleeding), uterine fibroid tumors, and iron deficiency anemia.
  • Researchers have shown that access to contraception improves the social and economic status of women and also saves employers money. A 2000 study estimated that it would cost employers 15% to 17% more not to provide contraceptive coverage in employee health plans. Research by the independent Institute of Medicine, recommended that the HHS preventative health services include all FDA approved contraceptive methods.
  • Religious employers are already exempt from compliance with this law and do not directly pay for this coverage—in fact it will reduce their overall cost as employers. The current religious employer exemption already accommodates religion and an expansion would instead become an endorsement of one particular brand of religion.  Under the current HHS accommodation, religious employers would be able to obtain contraceptive services free of charge, directly from insurance providers—ensuring that these religious employers are not actively involved in the process.

“Religious employers” are defined as non-profit organizations whose purpose is the inculcation of religious values, primarily employs people of the same faith, and primarily serves people of the same faith. 

 “Contrary to what these suits allege, the HHS rule strongly supports the religious liberty of individual Americans by allowing each person to make personal moral and health decisions for themselves,” Rogers said.  “The religious liberty of these organizations is already protected, now it’s time for them to respect the religious freedom of their employees, and stop attempting to force religiously-based practices and beliefs on them.”

The Secular Coalition continues to assert that religious institutions should not be exempt from any laws set by our secular government.

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