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Catholic Organizations: Supreme Court Should Protect Real Religious Freedom

January 28, 2014

Today, Catholics for Choice and 29 other faith-based organizations filed an amicus brief in two contraceptive coverage cases pending before the Supreme Court: Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius and Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius. Drafted by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the brief is signed by faith-based organizations committed to real religious liberty. The Catholic signatories, which reflect the diversity and values of the majority of American Catholics, also include CORPUS, DignityUSA, New Ways Ministry, Women’s Ordination Conference, the National Coalition of American Nuns and Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER).

Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, said, “The faith-based organizations joining this friend-of-the-court brief represent a wide variety of religious traditions and areas of interest. We stand united in our belief that America is stronger when real religious liberty is protected and every individual’s conscience is respected.

“The owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties and their conservative supporters argue that religious freedom means having the freedom to impose their beliefs on other people. However, the majority of Americans, including people of faith, disagree with them. The groups joining this brief show unequivocally that people of faith support contraceptive access and true religious liberty for all.

“One of the loudest voices opposing equity in contraceptive coverage has been the Catholic hierarchy. But it’s important to remember that the bishops represent a tiny minority within the Catholic church. There are more than 75 million Catholics in the United States and only 300 bishops. Ninety-nine percent of sexually active Catholic women have used a method of contraception banned by the hierarchy. Indeed, of the amici standing united in support for contraceptive coverage, seven are Catholic organizations representing the majority Catholic opinion.

“Catholics for Choice—and the majority of Catholics—support the rights of conscience, religious liberty and human dignity for all women, no matter where they work or how they receive their insurance. It is beyond ridiculous to claim that institutions have consciences or religious liberty. Conscience and religious liberty rights belong properly to individuals, according to our Catholic faith, and we are compelled by that faith to stand up for this appropriate application of the US Constitution to support employees’ right to access contraceptive coverage according to their ethical beliefs, not those of their employer.

“A 2012 poll, in a question specifically about a religiously-affiliated university, showed that the majority of Americans (69 percent) opposed denying employees and students insurance coverage for birth control on the ground that birth control is a sin. That is very similar to what these employers seek to do.

“At stake in these cases are the religious liberty rights of all workers in the United States—their rights to live their lives according to their own beliefs and consciences, and their freedom from having their employers’ beliefs forced upon them. The Supreme Court must answer a critical question: will the religious liberty of women workers and female dependents be respected, or will employers be allowed to trample upon the consciences and lives of their employees?”

Notes to Editors:

  • Both cases before the Supreme Court involve for-profit corporations—one a custom cabinetry company and the other a craft store chain—owned by individuals seeking to use their personal religious beliefs to prevent their employees and employees’ dependents from accessing insurance coverage for contraception.
  • Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius was appealed to the Supreme Court by the United States Department of Justice after the Tenth Circuit ruled that the contraceptive coverage requirement should be struck down because it burdened the corporation. Hobby Lobby, which is owned by a family of nondenominational Christians, is a for-profit craft store chain headquartered in Oklahoma. The company owns more than 500 stores nationwide and employs approximately 17,000 full-time workers.
  • Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius was appealed to the Supreme Court by the plaintiffs, the Mennonite owners of a for-profit, Pennsylvania-based custom cabinetry company. The appeal followed a Third Circuit ruling that Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation did not have a right to religious exercise and that its owners similarly did not have a right to object to the contraceptive coverage requirement based on religious liberty claims.
  • The Supreme Court is expected to hear one hour of consolidated oral arguments for both cases at 10 am on Tuesday, March 25.
  • Amici are represented by attorneys from Americans United for Separation of Church and State.