Today, the Supreme Court heard two cases that have major implications for the intersection of religious liberty and health care in America. While Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius were argued before the Court, hundreds of activists voiced their opinions outside the Court’s chambers.
The Court will decide whom the so-called “contraception mandate” law in the Affordable Care Act applies to. Both of the challengers to this section of the 2010 health law say that providing certain forms of birth control violates their sincerely held religious views. Though there are already exemptions in law for churches and some nonprofits, this case will decide whether for-profit corporations are offered protection under the religious liberty clause of the First Amendment to deny contraception coverage to their employees.
As we near the March 25 arguments in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius, it can feel as though men have the monopoly on religious activism in America. After all, 38 protestant theologians signed on to an amicus brief suggesting that a business owner’s religious beliefs should dictate the consciences and actions of female employees – none of those theologians were women.
A glance at the past, present, and future of women’s leadership in American religious life, however, shows this simply is not true. Today, as throughout American history, women have fought for their voice in religion, the opportunity to express their faith, and to obtain the same access to religious leadership as their brothers. Just as in other areas of work and life, creating opportunities for women to increase their hand in religious leadership is vital to greater equality and new perspectives in theology, moral activism, and spirituality.
Despite the increase in women in clergy careers over the last 40 years, it has been an uphill battle for women who have changed hearts, minds, and traditions for career opportunities as clergy and religious leaders in churches, synagogues, and mosques. Issues around the “ stained glass ceiling” in clergy careers can range from discouraging congregants who are biased against women clergy to institutional inequalities: men still outnumber women in clergy positions in America, and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 20.5 percent of self-described clergy were women in 2012. In certain religious traditions — the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Orthodox Church, and Orthodox Judaism, for example — women cannot be ordained as clergy or prayer leaders. It is also very rare to find Muslim women leading mixed-gender services.
WASHINGTON — Just days after the Obama administration issued final rules to religious groups for its contraception mandate, a broad coalition spearheaded by Catholic and Southern Baptist leaders is pushing back, saying the rules threaten religious liberty for people of all faiths.
In an open letter titled “Standing Together for Religious Freedom,” the group says the final rules from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services violate their freedom of conscience.
“We simply ask the government not to set itself up as lord of our consciences,’’ said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He was joined by Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore at a news conference at the National Press Club.
“HHS is forcing Citizen A, against his or her moral convictions, to purchase a product for Citizen B,” reads the open letter signed by dozens of leaders from evangelical, Orthodox, Mormon and Hare Krishna groups. “The HHS policy is coercive and puts the administration in the position of defining — or casting aside — religious doctrine. This should trouble every American.”
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Thirteen state attorneys general are urging the federal government to broaden religious exemptions for private businesses under the White House’s contraception mandate, claiming the policy violates religious freedoms.
Put simply, the group believes any employer who says he or she objects to contraception should not have to provide contraceptive coverage.
The nation’s Catholic bishops on Thursday rejected the Obama administration’s latest proposals to broaden accommodations for religious groups in regulations that require insurance companies or employers to provide free birth control coverage.
The administration last week released a long-awaited compromise for faith-based employers that have religious objections to offering health insurance that could be used by employees to access contraceptives and sterilization.
Yielding to demands by the bishops and other critics, the new accommodation contained a more expansive definition of what constitutes a religious group.
It also detailed how faith-based institutions that may not be exempt – especially religiously affiliated hospitals and universities – would be shielded from any involvement in providing contraceptive coverage; under the new rules, the insurance companies themselves would arrange that with the individual employee.
But New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the proposals fail to address or ease all of the hierarchy’s concerns, and said the bishops would continue to press ahead with efforts to overturn the mandate in court.
WASHINGTON — Foes of the federal contraception mandate are cheering a Tuesday appeals court decision requiring the Obama administration to devise exemptions to the new rule for two Christian colleges.
They’re also buoyed by the D.C. Circuit Court’s reversal of lower court decisions to throw out their cases. The administration had argued that because it was crafting an exemption to the contraception rule, the cases should not go forward.
Now the cases continue, and every 60 days, the administration must report on its plan to ensure that the colleges do not have to comply with the new rule, which mandates that employers cover contraception in their health plans.
“This is a win not just for Belmont Abbey and Wheaton, but for all religious non-profits challenging the mandate,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who argued the case.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney accused Democratic President Barack Obama of launching a “war on religion” in a television ad released on Aug. 9.
“President Obama used his health care plan to declare war on religion, forcing religious institutions to go against their faith,” the ad’s announcer states.
The ad pans to a shot of Romney on his recent visit to Poland saying, "In 1979, a son of Poland, Pope John Paul II, spoke words that would bring down an empire. Be not afraid."
It concludes, “When religious freedom is threatened, who do you want to stand with?”
A new poll shows that American Catholics tend to agree with their bishops’ concerns that religious liberties are at risk in the U.S.
Nevertheless, Catholics seem to be warming to President Obama, even as the bishops lambaste his administration in their fight to roll back a federal mandate that requires employers — with some exceptions — to cover birth control in their health plans.
The poll, released on Aug. 1 by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life as the contraception mandate took effect, found that among Catholics who are aware of the bishops' protests, 56 percent say they agree with the bishops’ concerns, as opposed to 36 percent who disagree.