End the Use of Religion to Discriminate

With increasing frequency, we are seeing individuals and institutions claiming a right to discriminate – by refusing to provide services to women and LGBT people – based on religious objections. The discrimination takes many forms, including:

  • Religiously affiliated schools firing women because they became pregnant while not married;
  • Business owners refusing to provide insurance coverage for contraception for their employees;
  • Graduate students, training to be social workers, refusing to counsel gay people;
  • Pharmacies turning away women seeking to fill birth control prescriptions;
  • Bridal salons, photo studios, and reception halls closing their doors to same-sex couples planning their weddings.

While the situations may differ, one thing remains the same: religion is being used as an excuse to discriminate against and harm others.

Instances of institutions and individuals claiming a right to discriminate in the name of religion aren’t new. In the 1960s, we saw institutions object to laws requiring integration in restaurants because of sincerely held beliefs that God wanted the races to be separate. We saw religiously affiliated universities refuse to admit students who engaged in interracial dating. In those cases, we recognized that requiring integration was not about violating religious liberty; it was about ensuring fairness. It is no different today.

Religious freedom in America means that we all have a right to our religious beliefs, but this does not give us the right to use our religion to discriminate against and impose those beliefs on others who do not share them.

Through litigation, advocacy and public education, the ACLU works to defend religious liberty and to ensure that no one is either discriminated against nor denied services because of someone else’s religious beliefs.

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Using Religion to Discriminate Against Women

In medical care

Across the country, we are seeing hospitals, insurance companies, pharmacies, and other health care entities discriminate against women by denying basic care – like birth control, emergency contraception, and abortion – in the name of religion. Many of these institutions receive taxpayer funding. The ACLU works to ensure that women are not denied information and the health care they need because of the religious views of their health care providers.

In employment

We have seen a recent spate of cases in which religiously affiliated schools have fired women for getting pregnant while single or for using IVF.  These cases are suggestive of a past when women were routinely pushed out of the workplace because of pregnancy.  Such discrimination is now illegal, even if religiously motivated.

Using Religion to Discriminate Against LGBT people

In services

In many states, businesses are barred by law from discriminating against customers based on their sexual orientation, as well as based on race, religion, or other legally protected categories. Increasingly, we see business owners claiming that they do not have to follow these laws but can instead refuse to provide services – including lodging, wedding dresses, and photography services – because the owners object to same-sex relationships. In addition, we see social service organizations that receive government funding deny services to same-sex couples. Everyone is entitled to their own religious beliefs, but when you operate a business or run a publicly funded social service agency open to the public, those beliefs do not give you a right to discriminate.

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In medical care

The ACLU has seen instances of students training to become mental health professionals and medical practices that have refused to treat lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. While we’re all entitled to our own religious beliefs, licensed medical providers should adhere to professional standards and not use their religion to discriminate against clients who come to them for help.

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