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The Fighting Irish Shouldn’t Pick a Fight with Women’s Equality

Notre Dame Dome - Flickr Image by Dan Dzurnisi
Notre Dame Dome - Flickr Image by Dan Dzurnisi
Brigitte Amiri,
Deputy Director,
ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
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April 21, 2015

You'd think the officials at Notre Dame would have their hands full with allegations of their broken sexual harassment and assault investigation protocols. And you'd also think that they wouldn't want to alienate their female employees and students any more than they already have.

But you'd be wrong.

Notre Dame will be back in court this Wednesday arguing that their religious beliefs mean they should be allowed to deny their female employees insurance coverage for contraception as required under the Affordable Care Act. We all know about the devastating loss in Hobby Lobby related to for-profit employers' obligation to provide contraception coverage (which the Obama administration is trying to fix). But religiously affiliated nonprofit organizations simply have to fill out a form and send it to their insurance company or the federal government stating that they have a religious objection to covering contraception. Then the insurance company takes care of everything else: communicating with the employees and paying for the coverage.

But Notre Dame thinks that even filling out a form saying that they object to providing contraception is a violation of their religious beliefs. Their extreme position really shows what this fight is all about: taking contraception coverage away from women.

That amounts to sex discrimination. Pure and simple. Especially when you consider that contraception is crucial for women's equal participation in society. Being able to decide whether and when to have children has had a direct effect on women's ability to make their own paths in terms of their schooling, their careers, and their families.

And Notre Dame is not alone. Dozens of nonprofit organizations have filed lawsuits seeking to prevent their female employees from having contraception coverage. Luckily, all four appellate courts that have reached the merits so far have quite sensibly found that forcing these institutions to simply fill out a form saying "we object" doesn't burden religious freedom.

Religious liberty is fundamental value, and one that we fight for here at the ACLU. But religious freedom doesn't give Notre Dame the right to discriminate against its female employees any more than it gives business owners the right to turn away lesbian, gay, or transgender customers. Our country values religious freedom, yes. But we also value equality.

I know the Fighting Irish is your logo, but come on Notre Dame, you really want to pick this fight against women?

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