Americans United for Separation of Church and State has told federal courts now considering the constitutionality of the Obama administration’s birth-control mandate that employers do not have a religious liberty right to deny their employees access to contraceptives.
Americans United said the mandate, which requires most businesses to provide workers with health insurance that includes no-cost birth control, should be upheld. If a “conscience” exemption is approved for corporations, the church-state watchdog group says, thousands of Americans will be denied birth-control coverage.
“Conservative religious interest groups are waging an all-out legal war on Americans’ access to birth control,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “We cannot let them win this battle. No corporation should ever be able to tell its employees that they can’t have access to contraceptive coverage simply because it offends the boss’ religious preference.
“This is clearly one of the most important church-state conflicts now before our courts,” Lynn added. “The Constitution and common sense tell us that Americans should not be denied basic health coverage because of the bogus ‘conscience’ claims of business interests.”
Americans United filed four friend-of-the-court briefs dealing with this issue in the past week. They concerned the following cases:
* Autocam Corporation, et al. v. Sebelius – A Michigan-based for-profit business that manufactures fuel systems, power-steering systems and medical devices seeks an exemption from the mandate due to the objections of its Roman Catholic owners. (6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals)
* Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., et al. v. Sebelius – The evangelical Christian owners of this Oklahoma-based chain of for-profit craft stores and for-profit bookstores say they should be exempted from the mandate because of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. (10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals)
* Grote Industries, LLC, et al. v. Sebelius – The Indiana-based corporation’s Catholic owners say their business, which is a for-profit, secular corporation that manufactures vehicle safety systems, should not have to provide health insurance that includes free contraceptives because it violates their religious conscience. (7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals)
* Legatus, et al. v. Sebelius – Weingartz Supply Company is a Michigan-based for-profit corporation that provides outdoor power equipment. Its Catholic owner objects to the contraceptive mandate on religious grounds.(6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals)
In addition to amicus briefs in these four cases, Americans United has previously filed friend-of-the-court briefs in three other contraceptive-access cases pending at federal appeals courts.
The broad legal attack on birth-control coverage is being waged by Religious Right legal groups such as the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, TV preacher Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice and the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal outfit founded by TV and radio preachers.
"If secular, for-profit corporations win the right to impose their owners' religious beliefs on employees, the consequences will be felt well beyond the issue of contraception,” said Gregory M. Lipper, senior litigation counsel for Americans United and a primary author of the briefs. “Corporations with owners who object to blood transfusions, psychiatric treatment or even gelatin-covered pills would be able to micromanage their employees' medical care.
“Decades-old laws that protect employees, consumers, and tenants from religious-based discrimination,” Lipper continued, “would also be on thin ice if the plaintiffs prevail here. For a nation with increasing religious diversity, that would be a giant step in the wrong direction."
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.