Conscientious Clergy: 1,000 Religious Leaders Stand Up For Religious Liberty And Contraceptive Access

President Obama is wasting time trying to compromise with a group of people who won’t settle for anything less than their full slate of demands.

The Religious Right and the Roman Catholic hierarchy want you to think that the overwhelming majority of people of faith are opposed to the Obama administration’s birth-control mandate, but that just isn’t true.

Yesterday, the Religious Institute, which is “a multi-faith organization dedicated to sexual health, education and justice,” published An Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Family Planning. The letter was signed by more than 1,000 clergy from many different faith perspectives, and it demands equal access to contraception for all women.

 “The denial of [coverage for] family planning services effectively translates into coercive childbearing and is an insult to human dignity,” the letter says.

The Rev. Debra W. Haffner, president of the Religious Institute, said in a statement, “It is a critical misunderstanding to equate the minority of those religious leaders who have fought the coverage of birth control during the past year with threats and lawsuits, with the majority of people of faith in the United States who support access to contraception.

“Let us be clear,” she continued, “that support for religious freedom means that women must have the right to accept or reject the principles of their own faith without restrictions, regardless of their place of employment or geographical location. It is unethical for any single religious voice to claim to speak for all religious people in this debate.”

As Americans United noted earlier in the week, the Obama administration has made every effort to compromise with aggressive sectarian lobbies on this matter.

A new rule proposed by the Obama administration would make sure employees at religiously affiliated nonprofits have access to birth control but provides an additional buffer between the church-related institutions and contraceptive coverage. Insurance companies would pick up the tab for contraception and would do the work of notifying employees of religiously affiliated institutions that they are eligible under a separate, individual policy – one that is provided wholly by the insurance company.

Past attempts at compromise have been met with nothing but rejection from the Religious Right and the Catholic hierarchy. The bishops haven’t spoken officially yet about the latest compromise, but it’s not looking good.

One prominent cleric, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, is already railing against it. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that he called the birth control mandate “flawed and dangerous,” adding that “faithful Catholics will be forced either to violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees.”

None of that is true. Making contraceptives available to anyone who wants them is hardly “flawed and dangerous” – just the opposite in fact. And no religiously affiliated organization has to pay for or provide contraceptives – that’s the job of the insurance company.

The president should stand firm. He is wasting time trying to compromise with a group of people who won’t settle for anything less than their full slate of demands.

Women’s lives, their health and their religious liberty are at stake. This is not a theocracy, no matter what the Religious Right and its allies say. Enough is enough.