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Religious Tolerance logo

In a religious freedom/liberty conflict among religious
employers, employees, and students, who wins?

More reactions to the HHS mandate by the
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice,
Americans United, Harvard Political Review
and Freedom from Religion Foundation

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This topic is continued from the previous essay

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Additional reactions to the HHS mandate:

  • The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), whose motto is "Pro-faith; Pro-family; Pro-choice, has prepared the following statement on birth control, religious freedom and conscience:

    "As religious leaders, we affirm the value of birth control as morally good for both individuals and society. As many religious traditions teach, the decision to become pregnant and have children is one of the most important commitments people make. These decisions affect our whole society and require responsible policies that involve us all, whether we experience the sacred joy of parenthood ourselves or we are partners in creating a culture of loving care.

    The ability to decide when and under what circumstances to have children is critical to the health, happiness, and stability of women and families across the globe. We believe in expanding the availability of health care resourcesâ€"especially to those individuals and communities whose options have been disproportionately limited by income, race, or other factors. As religious leaders, we support public policies that make birth control more economically accessible.

    We believe that decisions about birth control are a matter of individual conscience. Individualsâ€"not employersâ€"should be responsible for making choices about birth control. To preserve both fairness and religious freedom, institutions that employ and serve the general public should not be allowed to discriminate for religious reasons. As religious leaders, we call for public policies that protect each person's ability to access and use birth control according to their own conscience and religious beliefs. 1

    The RCRC is seeking support in the form of signatures to the above statement before 9 AM on 2012-JUL-02. See:

  • Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State referred to the Catholic Bishops' "Fortnight for Freedom" campaign, saying:

    "This bishops' project isn't about religious freedom â€" it's about privilege. They are asking for preferential treatment from the government, and if they are successful, it would undercut the rights of millions of Americans." 2

  • Daniel Lynch, writing for the Harvard Political Review wrote:
  • "... the strident and hyperbolic rhetoric of the Catholic bishops and their supporters has led some to suggest an underlying political motivation. Clearly, robust debate on the respective roles of the state and religious institutions is healthy, and political leaders should try to accommodate religious views and practices when possible. Unfortunately, the current Catholic leadership seems unwilling to recognize that, in a pluralistic society, their values may not always prevail when they conflict with the values of the majority. ..."

    "... the Obama administration offered a compromise in which the coverage requirement is shifted to insurance companies if the employer has a religious objection. This satisfied many Catholics, including Sister Carol Keehan, head of the influential Catholic Health Organization, who said that the compromise 'has responded to the issues we identified that needed to be fixed'."

    "However, the USCCB rejected the compromise and continued to demand that the mandate be rescinded entirely. One concern raised was that many of the Catholic organizations in question self-insure. As Richard Doerflinger, the USCCB’s associate director of pro-life activities, observed: 'Putting the obligation on the insurer and not the employer doesn’t help much if they are the same person'."

    The bishops seem to believe that religious freedom is absolute. Yet even the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae) concedes that, since 'The right to religious freedom is exercised in human society . . . its exercise is subject to certain regulatory norms' and 'due limits'. ..."

    "Such rhetoric has drawn accusations of political motivations not just from commentators, but also from other clerics, including Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., who suggested that some right-wing groups are turning the contraception controversy into 'an anti-Obama campaign.' While the USCCB has also criticized some Republican policies, notably the Ryan budget, it has been far more strident in its condemnation of the contraception mandate. Meanwhile, although the rhetoric of conservative bishops and priests suggests that the Obama administration is trying to push the Church into a corner, Network, a Catholic social justice lobby headed by Sister Simone Campbell, has observed that funding for Catholic charities and organizations has actually increased under the Obama administration."

    "Over the course of the contraception controversy, the bishops and their supporters have expressed some legitimate concernsâ€"especially over the breadth of the initial mandate and the narrow definition of a 'religious employer.' Their response, though, has been over-the-top both in terms of rhetoric and in terms of the actionâ€"widespread civil disobedienceâ€"that they demand when the mandate goes into effect. Whether their actions are politically motivated or not, it is no wonder that many observers have come to that conclusion. While the Church and its leaders are certainly entitled to speak out on the issues that concern them, it is unfortunate that they do not acknowledge the need for some accommodation in a pluralistic society and that many have chosen to engage in the same hyperbolic rhetoric that has become commonplace in partisan political debates." 3

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  • The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has installed the bulletin board shown below in the Dallas-Fort Worth, TX area. Others are in St. Louis, MO, and New York City, NY. They urge Roman Catholics to "Quit the church; put women's rights over bishops' wrongs."

FFRF billobard

They chose the Texas location because both the Diocese of Dallas and the Diocese of Ft. Worth have joined a multi-party lawsuit against the HHS mandate. Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), said that the billboard:

    "... is offensive ... fortunately so offensive that serious people cannot take it seriously. Unfortunately, anti-Catholicism lies close to the surface in America. However, with critics like these, we must be doing something right."

From the FFRF's comments, they seem to be opposed to the actions of the Catholic hierarchy, not to Catholics in general. Co-president Dan Barker said in a statement:

    "We don't think most Catholics, especially the 98 percent of Catholic women who use contraceptives at some point in their lives, support the bishops' war against contraception. It's time for them to stop supporting an oppressive institution."

Jeff Field, director of communications for the Catholic League also believes that the FFRF is anti-Catholic. He says that their motivation is that:

    "... they despise religion. Militant atheists, such as those at FFRF, are leading the charge of anti-Catholicism today. They claim that the bishops want to impose their dogma on all people. They couldn't be more wrong."

Field is correct. The USCCB's action is not intended to reduce contraceptive options for all women. They only wish to impose their beliefs on their female employees, both Catholic and non-Catholic.

Julia Sweeney is a former actress on Saturday Night Live. She has made a TV ad for the FFRF in which she says:

    "I'm a 'cultural Catholic,' I'm no longer a believer and I even wrote a play about it. Right now, Catholic bishops are framing their opposition to contraceptive coverage as a 'religious freedom' issue, but the real threat to freedom is the bishops."

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This topic continues in the next essay: More reactions to the HHS mandate

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How you may have arrived here:

Home > Morality > Health care > Contraceptive conflict > here

Home > Religious freedom > Freedom to oppress > Contraceptive conflict > here

Home > Important essays > Religious freedom > Freedom to oppress > Contraceptive conflict > here

Home > Religious information > Religious freedom > Freedom to oppress > Contraceptive conflict > here

Home > Human rights > Religious freedom > Freedom to oppress > Contraceptive conflict > here

 Home > Sex > Catholic church > Contraceptive conflict > here

 Home > "Hot" topics > Sex > Catholic church > Contraceptive conflict > here

Home > Christianity > Christian groups > Sorting groups > Denominations > Catholics > Sex > Contraceptive conflict >here

 Home > Christianity > Christian history, belief... > Beliefs > Sex > Catholic church > Contraceptive conflict > here

or Home > Religious Information> Basic data > Sex > Catholic church > Contraceptive conflict > here

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Religious Leaders' Statement On Birth Control, Religious Freedom, and Conscience," Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, 2012-JUL-02, at:
  2. Rachel Zoll, "Catholic bishops enlist parishioners in religious freedom fight that critics call partisan," Associated Press, 2012-JUN-21, at:
  3. Daniel Lynch, "A stubborn 'Fortnight for Freedom," Harvard Political Review," 2012-JUN-27, at:
  4. Michael Gryboski, "Secularist Group's Dallas Billboard Calls on Catholics to 'Quit Church'," The Christian Post, 2012-JUL-01, at:

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Copyright © 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance 
Originally written: 2012-JUN-27
Latest update: 2012-JUL-02
Author: B.A. Robinson

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