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Supreme Court Hands Reins to Religious Extremists

June 30, 2014

“Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court is a devastating blow to real religious liberty in America,” said Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice. “The claim that institutions or corporations have a conscience or religious liberty is disingenuous and offensive. Conscience and religious liberty rights belong properly to individuals. The majority of Catholics use and support contraceptive coverage. The majority of Catholics support real religious liberty for all. The majority of Catholics will be disappointed by this ruling.

“These cases are about far more than birth control or access to healthcare. At stake are the religious liberty rights of all workers in the United States—their right to live their lives according to their own beliefs and consciences, and their freedom from having their employers’ beliefs forced upon them. This ruling is just the tip of the iceberg, with similar lawsuits from nonprofit organizations like the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) in the pipeline. While today’s cases were about providing birth control through health insurance plans, the Supreme Court has shown that it will not protect the religious liberty of employees.

“What’s clear from today’s ruling is that the Obama administration made a terrible misjudgment by bending over backwards to appease the unappeasable. Aggressive lobbying by the Catholic bishops and their ultraconservative allies pressured the administration to cave on the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage rules, creating a loophole exploited by organizations—religious or not—to claim exemptions from the law. But even that was never going to be enough for the bishops and their allies like Hobby Lobby.

“As a result of this decision, organizations involved in reproductive rights and religious freedom need to work together and come up with a legislative solution. Religious extremists will not be placated by negotiation and compromise. Today, the Obama administration has learned this the hard way. Catholics for Choice will be front and center in the fight to ensure that this administration stops throwing women under the bus whenever the going gets tough.

“Women and men across the United States lost today—and not just the tens of thousands of employees working for Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties. They and millions of others now face the prospect of a future like that of ‘Sandra,’ a young science teacher at a Catholic school. Sandra took a pay cut to do the type of work she loves, but soon realized that working under the jurisdiction of a local diocese came with a hefty price tag. When she went to fill her usual birth control prescription, she was shocked to discover her new employer did not cover birth control, regardless of medical necessity. Paying out of pocket for the contraceptive method that worked best for her, a nongeneric prescription, posed a significant hardship on the budget she had carefully planned with her husband. But Sandra especially objected to the bishops’ interference in personal, private decisions about her reproductive health. Her story is all too common, and today’s ruling put the healthcare decisions of millions of employees at companies like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties in the hands of their employers rather than their own.

“The truth is that requirements under the Affordable Care Act infringe on no one’s conscience. Under the guise of protecting religious freedom and so-called ‘conscience rights,’ however, employers like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties are now free to trample on the religious liberty of their employees who wish to follow their own consciences when it comes to whether and when to start a family. The majority of Catholics across the United States who stand with these employees and their rights are sorely disappointed. While today’s ruling is a huge loss for workers and families everywhere, Catholics for Choice will continue to advocate for the real religious freedom of every individual and fight to ensure this bad decision is not the end of religious liberty as we know it.”

Notes to editors: Catholics for Choice joined an amicus brief with 29 other faith-based organizations in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties cases. 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).

In addition, 44 members of the Coalition for Liberty and Justice—a diverse cross-section of communities, including faith-based and secular groups as well as those dedicated to women’s rights, LGBT rights, separation of church and state, civil rights and reproductive rights and justice—urged the Supreme Court to support real religious liberty for all.