Restrictions on birth control opposed by US religious liberties group

By agency reporter
February 2, 2013

American workers’ access to birth control should not be subject to their employers’ faith or beliefs, a religious liberty group has told a US federal appeals court.

In a friend-of-the-court brief, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which is headed up by an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, has urged the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate, which requires most businesses to provide workers with a health insurance that includes no-cost birth control.

Several businesses, represented by Religious Right legal groups, have filed lawsuits contending that they have a religious liberty right to refuse to comply with the mandate, a federal regulation issued in conjunction with the Affordable Care Act.

Americans United disagrees. “The decision to use birth control must rest with the individual,” said the Rev Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “We simply can’t have a health care system in which Americans’ access to contraception varies depending on where the boss goes to church.”

The case, Newland v. Sebelius, concerns a Colorado firm called Hercules Industries that manufactures heating and air conditioning equipment. The company’s owners say they have religious objections to artificial contraceptives and are arguing that a 1993 federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, frees them from providing it to employees, even indirectly.

Americans United says the company has misconstrued the law. In the brief, AU argues that the firm’s owners do not suffer a substantial burden because some employees might choose to use birth control.

“An exemption for [Hercules’ owners] would significantly burden Hercules Industries’s employees – many of whom do not share Plaintiffs’ religious beliefs – by making it more difficult, and sometimes impossible, for them to obtain contraception,” asserts the brief.

The brief goes on to assert, “[Hercules owners] have every right to refrain from using contraception and to attempt to persuade others to do the same. But once they enter the secular market for labour to staff their secular, for-profit corporation, they may not force their religious choices on their employees, who are entitled to make their own ‘personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, [and] child rearing.’”

The brief was drafted by Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan, Senior Litigation Counsel Gregory M. Lipper, and Madison Fellow Ben Hazelwood.

Other groups signing the brief are Women of Reform Judaism, the Hindu American Foundation, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington DC. Founded in 1947, the organisation educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.


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