Jun 19, 2012

Religious organizations have no right to meddle in Americans’ private lives by demanding the power to restrict access to birth control, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

In comments submitted to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Americans United told the agency that the creation of a new accommodation for religiously affiliated organizations is unnecessary.

“No religious organization’s rights are violated when an individual employee decides to use birth control,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “To be blunt, religious organizations should put an immediate stop to interfering with the intimate personal lives of others.”

The Roman Catholic hierarchy and its Religious Right allies are pressuring the Obama administration to allow religiously affiliated hospitals and colleges to deny birth control coverage to their employees even if the coverage is paid for by insurance companies. The bishops are also demanding that Catholic owners of secular businesses be allowed to deny their workers contraceptive coverage.

AU pointed out that two courts have upheld a religious exemption similar to the one already put in place by the Obama administration. The real threat to religious liberty, AU says, is in broadly expanding the exemption because that would result in Americans’ medical care being subject to sectarian oversight.

If a new accommodation is granted, AU said, it must be as narrow as possible. In addition, all for-profit businesses and any organizations that accept direct grants and contracts from the government should not be exempt from the birth control mandate. 

In February, the Obama administration announced a final rule that would exempt certain religious employers from making birth control accessible directly to their employees through employer-provided health care plans. It now seeks to create a new accommodation for a broader category of religiously affiliated groups that would free them of the insurance mandate, but permit their employees to get free coverage from a third party. 

Lynn, noting that houses of worship are exempt from the policy entirely, said the original rule was a good solution.  He noted that many Americans rely on birth control and many women use it for medical reasons.

In its June 19 comments, Americans United expressed support for reasonable accommodations for religious organizations so that no one’s beliefs are infringed. But, AU warns, such accommodations must not be applied too broadly so that individual privacy and medical needs are protected.

Giving religious groups too much power in this area could subject people to unwanted clerical interference in private matters, AU asserted. 

“A worker should not be denied direct insurance coverage for contraceptives simply because the government grant funding her position is overseen by a religious organization opposed to contraceptives,” observed AU in its comments.

The comments were written by Americans United Legislative Director Maggie Garrett.