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Religious Tolerance logo

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

Reactions to the HHS mandate from the Secular
Coalition for America
, Catholics for Choice,
and Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

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This topic is continued from the previous essay

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Additional reactions to the HHS mandate:

  • Edwina Rogers, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America sent an Email on 2012-JUN-28 to members of their mailing list.

    Member organizations of the Secular Coalition for America include American Atheists, American Ethical Union, American Humanist Association, Atheist Alliance of America, Camp Quest, Council for Secular Humanism, Association of Unitarian Universalist Humanists, Institute for Humanist Studies, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, Secular Student Alliance, and the Society for Humanistic Judaism.

    Her Email states:

    "For months now, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been pushing a false definition of 'religious freedom' in an attempt to expand and strengthen religious privileging from the government and impose religion onto our secular laws. The worst part is that they are doing it all under a smoke screen of religious persecution.

    Spearheaded by the Bishops, a two week campaign is currently underway that aims to protect discrimination based on religion, expand 'religious refusal' laws, and allow religious employers to impose their religious beliefs on employees.  In fact, this two-week 'Fortnight for Freedom' is just the beginning of what the USCCB is calling a 'great national campaign' that will be 'extensive… occurring over a few years.'

    The reality is that there are 40 million Americans who don’t identify with any religion, and among voters, 54 percent say that churches and other houses of worship should keep out of political matters. The separation of religion and government is the best guarantee of freedom for all Americans -- from nontheists to the religious.

    Despite the noisemakers on the other side, we are still in the majority. It’s time to make our voice heard—to step up and say enough is enough!

    Will you join us today in writing a letter to the editor of your area newspapers? " 1

    Their web site contains a sample letter:

    Subject: Bishops: Your freedom ends where my nose begins

    Dear Editor,
    For months now, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been pushing a false definition of “religious freedom” in an attempt to expand and strengthen government privileging of religion and impose religion onto our secular laws. The worst part is that they are doing it all under a smoke screen of religious persecution.

    The Fortnight for Freedom is simply another political campaign designed to chip away at the separation of religion and government.  True religious freedom is the ability to practice your religion and hold your beliefs, as long as those beliefs do not infringe upon the rights of another to do the same. What the Bishops are asking for is the ability to impose their religious beliefs on others and discriminate based on their religion—often while accepting taxpayer funding.

    The concept of the separation of religion and government was deemed so important and essential to our identity as a nation that it is included in our Constitution. That is because the separation of religion and government is the best guarantee of freedom for all Americans—both the religious as well as the 40 million Americans that do not identify with any religion. Those who truly advocate for religious freedom should speak out and stand up in the fight to keep our government and laws secular—and encourage others to do the same.



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  • Catholics for Choice is a group composed of Catholic laity who:

    "seeks to shape and advance sexual and reproductive ethics that are based on justice, reflect a commitment to women's well-being and respect and affirm the capacity of women and men to make moral decisions about their lives. CFC works in the United States and internationally to ensure that all people have access to safe and affordable reproductive healthcare services and to infuse our core values into public policy, community life and Catholic social thinking and teaching." 2

    Their web site contains a lengthy essay titled "The Truth About Religious Freedom" in which they compare arguments by the Bishops with their own conflicting analysis. Two topics that they discuss are:

    • Bishops: The mandate does not exempt Catholic charities, schools, universities, or hospitals.

      CfC response: Schools, universities, hospitals and Catholic charities will have a workaround under which insurers, not employers, must offer employees coverage for contraception when their employers object. Employees at these institutions deserve to benefit from the same access to healthcare as everybody else, and they should not be subject to discrimination just because of where they happen to work. Religious institutions or entities, like houses of worship, including Catholic ones, received an exemption, and do not need to comply with the law.

    • Bishops: This is not about contraception; it’s about religious freedom.

      CfC response: The reality is that this debate is about both. It is about whether individuals have the right to follow their own consciences in making their own healthcare decisions, and it is about whether individuals have the right to freedom of and freedom from religion. Individuals have consciences, have healthcare needs, ... have religious liberty, and deserve to have these rights and needs respected and protected.

      The question that matters in this debate is: whose religious freedom are we talking about? It is the job of the government to protect both individual rights in healthcare decisions and individual religious liberty, and to protect them both from institutional intrusion. This debate absolutely is about protecting the freedom of an employee, no matter where she works, to exercise her personal beliefs without the bishops imposing theirs upon her. 3

  • The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) celebrates "Contraception Celebration Day:"

    The Coalition celebrated 2012-AUG-01, as:
    "... a historic milestone for women and reproductive justice in the United States. It's a cause for celebration, because today -- August 1st -- is the first day health plans are required to provide women with no-charge coverage for contraception and other critical health benefits when their plan or policy year renews!"

    Also on that day, the Coalition kicked off their of education aimed at helping women and families understand who is eligible for coverage and when. They posted a five question quiz on their web site.

    They state that:

    • Copay-free coverage by Insurance plans do not all start on 2012-AUG-01, but only when the next renewal date of the plan is reached.

    • Birth control coverage includes "... all FDA-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling. This includes the pill, patch, ring, and IUDs. Over-the-counter products such as female condoms, spermicides, sponges, and emergency contraception (available without a prescription to individuals ages 17 and up) are also included." However, male condoms and vasectomies are not covered.

    • Certain religious employers are exempt from the plan. Religiously-affiliated institutions may apply for a one year deferment, so that coverage would not begin until the plan renewal date on or after 2012-AUG-01.

    • Additional benefits are covered without copays involving preventive benefits involving breastfeeding, contraception, violence screening and counseling, screening for gestational diabetes, HIV and HPV, STI counseling, and well women visits -- an annual checkup for adult women.

RCRC also provides two different versions of  a handout in PDF format for general distribution.

Rev. Harry Knox, President and CEO of RCRC spoke at a news conference on 2012-JUL-30. He said:

"False prophets have been misleading the public about health care reform and especially about contraception. These nay-sayers are spending their donor dollars and time on frivolous lawsuits against women’s health care.  

This is an outrage. I have counseled women in great distress and need – women who tell me they have more children than they can care for, who are out of work, who cope with abuse and family conflict. It is a moral imperative for a government that cares about human welfare to make sure that contraception is available as it will be in new health plans starting August. 1.   

The opponents of covering contraception are out of step with public opinion. And they are wrong. They are wrong about how contraception works. They say that emergency contraception causes an abortion. It does not affect an established pregnancy and it is a disservice to women to say it does – including women who are victims of sexual assault, who most need emergency contraception.

They are wrong about religious liberty. This is a very complex subject but one thing is clear: decisions about birth control should be a matter of individual conscience, not institutional policy.  Individuals—not employers—should be responsible for making decisions about birth control. Religiously affiliated institutions that employ and serve the general public and often receive government funds and grants should not be allowed to restrict the freedoms and moral choices of their employees who perform secular functions. 

I respect the right of these groups to express their views. But I draw the line at what they are actually doing - substituting religious beliefs for contemporary science and then claiming their religious freedom is being violated.

It is these groups that seek to restrict the religious liberties of individual employees.  To be clear, these groups do not represent women or families or most people of faith. In fact, 98% of women of all religions use contraception at some point in their lives." 5

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This topic continues in the next essay

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How you may have arrived 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. "TAKE ACTION: Send a Letter to the Editor Regarding Bishops' 'Fortnight for Freedom'," Secular Coalition Coalition for America,"
  2. "About our work," Catholics for Choice, undated, at:
  3. "The truth about religious freedom," Catholics for Choice, undated, at:
  4. "It's Contraception Celebration Day!," Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, 2012-AUG-01, at: This is a temporary listing.
  5. "RCRC's Celebration & Education Campaign for Contraceptive Coverage," Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, 2012-JUL-30, at:

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Copyright © 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance 
Originally written: 2012-JUL-04
Latest update: 2012-AUG-02
Author: B.A. Robinson

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