This morning Laura Murphy, Director of our Washington Legislative Office appeared on NBC’s Today to discuss the recent controversy surrounding the Obama administration’s announcement that it would keep in place a proposed rule that ensures that new insurance plans include coverage of contraception.
The powerful lobbying arm of the Catholic Church, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has repeatedly made claims to the press and their constituents that the rule violates their religious liberty. During her appearance, Murphy made it clear that religious liberty is not at risk. What is at stake is the guarantee that everyone is treated fairly and can live their lives free from discrimination.
On Today Murphy said, “People are not being forced to adopt a new set of religious beliefs by this rule. They can practice their religion as they see fit, they can choose not to use birth control.”
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And she’s right.
The ACLU has always been a strong advocate for religious freedom. For nearly a century we have defended the rights of all religious believers – from majority and minority faiths alike – to practice their religion. And to be clear, the rule does not require religious institutions like churches or synagogues that hire people of the same belief for the purposes of advancing that faith to purchase birth control coverage for their employees. Moreover, clergy remain free to espouse their beliefs, and individual women remain free to follow those beliefs or not, according to their own conscience. However, the fundamental promise of religious liberty in this country doesn’t create a right to impose those views on others, including ignoring civil rights laws or denying critical health care.
One thing the Bishops and other religious leaders aren’t talking about is women’s health and that is at the heart of this issue as well. We know that the vast majority of women will use birth control in their lifetimes. And we know health care matters for women– be she a scientist at Norte Dame or a janitor working at St. Vincent’s Hospital – access to affordable birth control is essential for women and their families.
True religious freedom gives everyone the right to make personal decisions, including whether and when to use birth control based on our own beliefs and according to what is best for our health and the well-being of our families. It does not give religious groups the right to impose their beliefs on others.