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Defending Real Religious Liberty for All

August 21, 2013

“The launch of the US State Department’s Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives indicates that the Obama administration plans to continue bending over backwards to appease some religious voices in the development of public policy,” said Sara Hutchinson, domestic program director at Catholics for Choice, speaking today as part of an expert panel on religious liberty. The panel featured members of the Coalition for Liberty & Justice, including leaders from Catholics for Choice, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Concerned Clergy for Choice and the founder of the international women’s rights organization Women Living Under Muslim Laws.

These leading religious liberty advocates met to discuss the current state of church/state separation in light of the State Department’s announcement of the creation of the new office earlier this month, as well as the ongoing litigation over required preventive healthcare coverage for women, including contraception. Panelists discussed the influence of religion on public policy and women’s reproductive health and examined the difference between the protections owed to people of faith from all traditions and the privileging of any one faith’s view over others in civil law.

“The impact of undue deference shown to particular religious individuals or organizations continues to be seen in the ongoing saga of health insurance reform. Conservative faith voices, such as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, seek exemptions from laws and regulations with which they disagree, especially those related to women’s rights,” Hutchinson said. “Yet these same voices also expect privileged treatment when it comes to public funding, federal grants and other benefits of civil society. This imbalance is not only anathema to the Catholic tradition of social justice, but it flies in the face of the American value of true religious liberty.” Hutchinson highlighted the recent lawsuits over contraception coverage from faith-based universities and other private companies to explain how ultraconservative religious groups have tried to impose their extreme views on everyone.

Marieme Helie Lucas, from Women Living Under Muslim Laws and Secularism Is a Women’s Issue, wrote in the current issue of Conscience magazine about counteracting the influence of Muslim extremists. She wrote, “Non-Muslims’ fear of being seen as anti-Islam has been shamelessly exploited by the Muslim religious right in Europe and North America. Muslims, non-Muslim believers and atheists alike should not be intimidated by the fear of being labeled anti-Islamic, and should strongly condemn extreme right opinions passing themselves off as religious.”

Rev. Barry Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, explained how the interests of institutions have taken precedence over the conscience of individuals during the past few years. “Government sanction of any one religious tradition is unconstitutional, yet in small and large ways the federal government continues to undermine religious liberty and the separation of church and state in law and policy.”

“Let’s remember that many faithful believe there’s moral good in access to birth control, keeping abortion safe and legal and making sure that women are treated equally,” said Rabbi Dennis S. Ross, director of Concerned Clergy for Choice. “Religious liberty means, above all else, that a woman will be protected when making her personal and private decisions about planning her family. It means she can have an open conversation with her doctor and loved ones. It also means that she deserves to get the medical care she believes to be right for her.”

To arrange interviews with any of the speakers, or receive audio files of their addresses, please contact Claire S. Gould at (202) 986-6093 or



The Coalition for Liberty & Justice is a broad alliance of faith-based, secular and other organizations that works to ensure that public policy protects the religious liberty of individuals of all faiths and no faith and to oppose public policies that impose one religious viewpoint on all.