May 30, 2018

Americans United filed a friend-of-the-court brief yesterday in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California v. Azar – a challenge to the Trump-Pence administration’s new rules that would allow employers and universities to use religion to deny their employees and students health-insurance coverage for birth control.

Our message to the court is simple: Religious freedom is a fundamental American value, and so is a woman’s right to make her own decisions about health care. Taken together, these principles mean that no employer or university can use religion to dictate its employees’ or students’ health care choices.

The Trump-Pence administration has tried to weaponize the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to find some legal basis for these new rules, but RFRA was originally intended to be a shield to protect religious exercise, not a sword to impose religious beliefs on others. The law provides important protections for religious exercise, but those protections are not without limits. Importantly, religious exemptions cannot be used to impose the costs of one person’s or business’s religious views on others.

With these new exemptions to the contraceptive-coverage requirement, the Trump-Pence administration has taken RFRA too far. It has empowered bosses and universities to force the costs of birth control on their employees and students – even though, under the Affordable Care Act, this essential health care should be covered by insurance without cost to the patient. And the new rules are a solution in search of a problem: Bosses and universities with a religious objection to contraceptives already were able to tell the government that they did not want to pay for that type of insurance coverage and thereby avoid any burden on their religious practice. 

Religious freedom is a fundamental American value, and so is a woman’s right to make her own decisions about health care. Taken together, these principles mean that no employer or university can use religion to dictate its employees’ or students’ health care choices.

The case is currently pending in the 9th Circuit after the Trump-Pence administration and two intervenors – an anti-abortion group and a nursing home – appealed the December preliminary injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam Jr., which blocked these new rules from going into effect nationwide. A similar injunction was also issued by a federal district court in Pennsylvania.

Our brief was joined by a wide array of religious and civil-liberties organizations: Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice; Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc.; HEART Women & Girls; Interfaith Alliance Foundation; Jewish Women International; Methodist Federation for Social Action; Muslim Advocates; National Council of Jewish Women; People For the American Way Foundation; Reconstructing Judaism; Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association; and the Sikh Coalition.

Americans United has long fought attempts to use religion to undermine women’s access to birth control. In addition to our multiple briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court, Americans United has represented Notre Dame students in their university’s case against the Obama administration’s accommodation and in a challenge to the Trump-Pence administration’s new rules.

We will not stop fighting against attempts to use religion to violate the law at the expense of women’s equality, because we continue to believe that our country is strongest when we are all free to believe, or not, and to practice our beliefs without hurting others. Visit our Protect Thy Neighbor campaign page to learn more.