October 2012 Church & State | People & Events

A member of the Americans Uni­ted Board of Trustees has penned an opinion column for the Denver Post warning of the dangers of allowing religious groups to control Americans’ health care.

Karen B. Ringen, a public health policy consultant in Boulder, expressed alarm over a recent federal court ruling that permitted a Colorado business to deny birth-control coverage to its employees because the own­ers oppose it.

“This ruling is short-sighted and distorts religious liberty,” Ringen observed in the Aug. 29 column. “True religious freedom means the right to make religious decisions for yourself. It gives you (or your boss) no license to tell others what to do.”

Ringen continued, “If your religion teaches that the use of birth control is a sin, no one can force you to use it. But your belief, no matter how strongly held, does not give you the power to make decisions for others – especially when those decisions are of an intimate and personal nature.

“Religious freedom is an important principle in America, but it must be applied fairly. Americans want and deserve access to safe and affordable birth control. Whether people are using it to control family size or deal with medical issues is a private matter. It’s no one else’s concern.”

Concluded Ringen, “We simply cannot have a health-care system where workers’ rights are held hos­tage to their employer’s religious beliefs, and employers may pick and choose what they will allow in terms of access to health care for their employees.”

The case in question concerns Hercules Industries, a Denver firm that sells heating and air conditioning products. The company, owned by William, Paul and James Newland, objects to new federal regulations that require employee health care plans to include contraceptive coverage.

The firm sued, backed by the Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly the Alliance Defense Fund). In Newland v. Sebelius, a federal court issued a preliminary injunction in favor of the company.

Although Hercules is a secular enterprise, its owners insist that their conservative Catholic faith means that they have the right to deny their employees access to birth control.

The firm’s court filing reads, “The Newlands sincerely believe that the Catholic faith does not allow them to violate Catholic religious and moral teachings in their decisions operating Hercules Industries.”

But Ringen says the issue is individual freedom and a public health care policy that protects everyone.

“It is truly remarkable,” she wrote, “that some – including a federal judge – have embraced a theory of religious liberty that allows those in positions of authority to use government policy to force their theology onto the rest of us. Some may call that ‘religious liberty.’ To a lot of us, it looks more like something else: religious oppression.”