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Why Religious Exemptions Hurt—and Why Catholics Oppose Them

November 17, 2014

“The bishops’ demands that the government allow them to discriminate against people who hold different religious beliefs about marriage, family life and health care are in stark contrast with Catholic values, and with what most Catholics in the US believe,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke of DignityUSA at a briefing on Capitol Hill convened by Catholics for Choice.

Commenting on American Catholics’ response to the Hobby Lobby v. Burwell decision and the ongoing demands from the bishops under the guise of “religious liberty,” Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe of Catholics for Choice said, “Catholics believe that conscience and religious liberty rights belong in the hands of individuals, not institutions. Allowing some institutions or businesses to discriminate through special rules and exemptions is anathema to our Catholic tradition of social justice.”

New polling of more than 1,000 American Catholic voters confirms what many Catholic leaders have known for decades—Catholic voters follow their conscience, not the dictates of the bishops.

  • Two-thirds of Catholic voters (67 percent) reject the right of employers to deny insurance coverage of birth control for employees and their dependents based on employers’ religious beliefs.
  • Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of Catholics disapprove of a law that would allow a business to deny services to employees or customers on the basis of sexual orientation due to an owner’s religious beliefs.
  • A strong majority (84 percent) of Catholics disapproves of a guidance counselor refusing to help a gay or lesbian student due to the counselor’s religious beliefs.

Catholics for Choice, Call to Action, DignityUSA and Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER) joined more than three dozen progressive Catholic organizations and their affiliates in a letter to Congress decrying the bishops’ misrepresentation: “As Catholics, we are compelled to work toward justice and equality and to create a society in which women and men, young and old, poor and rich, gay and straight are treated with the same dignity and respect and granted the same opportunities. […] Catholics cannot claim that our religion gives us an excuse to discriminate against someone who is married to someone of the same sex. Catholics cannot claim our religion tells us to interfere with someone else’s decision about whether or not to be pregnant.”

“The truth is, Catholics support the rights of conscience, religious liberty and human dignity for all people,” concluded Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe. “We’re taking this message to policymakers on Capitol Hill and to statehouses across the country—it’s time to speak up for those left behind and fight for their rights.”

For more information on the poll or to speak with one of the panelists, please contact Claire S. Gould at or 202-986-6093.