Religious liberty, women’s rights are protected by the health law

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Ruth Ann Dailey castigates the American Civil Liberties Union for siding with the government in opposing a lawsuit by some Catholic institutions seeking an exemption from the new health care law’s requirement to provide women employees with free contraceptive care (“An Un-American Assault on Religious Liberty,” Nov. 17 column). Ms. Dailey’s comparison of this “horror” to Anne Frank and treatment of the Jews during the Holocaust is offensive and beyond the pale.

First, no one in the diocese would be required to modify his or her behavior or forced to take an action inconsistent with their religious beliefs. Under the law, houses of worship are exempt, so we are not talking about churches, but affiliated institutions, like social service agencies and hospitals. But even for those, they must simply submit a form to their third-party administrator documenting their objection to providing the services. Thereafter, the diocese will incur no cost and have absolutely no involvement in the provision of insurance services. The delivery of payments operates entirely outside of the church’s business operations. It is no different from paying a salary to an employee who uses it to buy contraceptives. The church is still free to discourage women from doing so.

Historically, in times of social change, some businesses and employers have argued that being forced to racially integrate or provide equal benefits to female employees burdened their religion. The courts have recognized that while religious liberty is a fundamental right, it does not give individuals or religious organizations license to deny others their rights, ignore important laws or impose their religious beliefs on their employees.

The ability to control whether and when to have children has enabled women to achieve greater academic, professional and economic success. The new health law is an important step toward promoting women’s equality by ensuring that all women will have affordable access to this important health care.

Allowing deeply religious business owners and church-affiliated groups to restrict employees’ access to contraceptive care perpetuates discrimination against female employees. By allowing religious employers to “opt out” of providing contraceptive care directly while giving employees access to them through a third party, the law achieves a balance that protects both religious liberty and women’s rights.

WITOLD J. WALCZAK
Legal Director
ACLU-Pennsylvania
Oakland


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