There’s no denying that 2017 was a tough year for advocates of religious freedom and church-state separation. Yet despite the barrage of assaults from the Donald Trump-Mike Pence administration, Americans United saw important victories in and out of court.
This year's Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill has a lot of problems—including a range of attacks on women’s reproductive healthcare. There will be many amendments offered to try to repair some of the damage, and this morning, we urged committee members to support two of them.
As new federal regulations reportedly are imminent that would gut the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requirement that most health insurance plans cover contraceptives, two Trump administration attorneys who fought for employers to be able to cite religious beliefs as justification to deny women access to vital healthcare have been in the news recently.
In today's Wall of Separation blog post, Americans United Legislative Assistant Director Dena Sher outlined the steps the Trump administration and its allies took against church-state separation last week, including US Attorney General Jeff Sessions' speech to Alliance Defending Freedom.
Freedom of religion is a fundamental American value. Our laws should be a shield to protect this freedom and not a sword to harm others.
One month after filing our objections in court to the Trump administration’s leaked draft rule that would gut the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that most health insurance plans cover contraceptives, we repeated our warning: Women, including the students we represent, would be seriously harmed by the new regulations. Under the draft Trump rule, any employer or university, even for-profit corporations, could use religion as an excuse to completely deny their employees and students contraceptive coverage.
From AU's Wall of Separation blog:
Late Thursday, Americans United told a federal appeals court that women would be severely harmed by the Trump administration’s proposed change to the current requirement that health insurance cover contraceptives, a change that would allow employers and universities to use religion as an excuse to deny contraceptive coverage completely.
Just as religious freedom is a fundamental American value, so is being able to make your own choices about healthcare. Decisions about women’s health should be left to women—not to politicians or employers.
But President Donald J. Trump, his Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and others in his administration want to give bosses the right to insert themselves into the private healthcare decisions of their employees, and misuse the concept of religious freedom to justify this invasion.
The proposed regulation, initiated by Trump’s May 4 executive order, would allow any employers to cite religious – or even “moral” – objections to opt out of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provision that requires health-insurance plans to cover birth control with no co-pay. There’s no back-up plan. Under the Trump proposal, if the boss declines to cover contraceptives, the cost shifts to employees and students. (For more details on the Trump plan, read our analysis at our Protect Thy Neighbor project.)
“Using religion as an excuse to jeopardize women's access to basic healthcare is discrimination, plain and simple,” Richard B. Katskee, AU’s legal director, said in response to the Trump proposal. “If the rule is made final, we will fight it at every turn.”
In fact, AU has already begun fighting it: We filed our objections to the proposed rule with the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday, describing how the proposal – or any rule change that doesn’t provide affordable, seamless access to necessary healthcare—will harm women.
AU represents students in the case University of Notre Dame v. Price. These are the only women at risk of losing birth control coverage who are parties to the ongoing lawsuits filed in response to the ACA’s contraceptive-coverage provision.
The Obama administration had created an accommodation for non-profits with religious objections (and since expanded it to for-profit companies following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision). Under this accommodation, organizations need only complete a short form to opt out of providing contraception coverage, and the government will work with third-party insurers to provide the coverage at no cost to the affected women.
But attacks on contraception coverage persisted in ongoing litigation as some organizations argued that merely requesting the opt-out violates their religious freedom.
These cases, including Notre Dame v. Price, have remained in limbo since the U.S. Supreme Court returned them to the lower courts in May 2016. AU and the other parties in our case were required to file status updates yesterday with the 7th Circuit.
AU’s report told the court that the Trump administration’s proposed change “would modify the religious accommodation at issue here in just the way that the government previously reported could not be done without depriving women like (our clients) of access to essential health services.”
That result would violate the First Amendment’s church-state provisions, which forbid “religious exemptions or accommodations from generally applicable laws that would have a ‘detrimental effect on any third party.’”
AU will continue to make it clear that religion cannot be used as an excuse to discriminate against women in their healthcare coverage.
Stay tuned—we’ll keep you posted on what happens with Trump’s proposal, this lawsuit and all of our Protect Thy Neighbor work to stop those who would misuse religious freedom as an excuse to harm others.
We dive a little deeper into the Trump administration's new contraception coverage rule to expose the falsehoods that the administration is relying on in order to take away contraception coverage from millions of American women under the guise of religious freedom. As you’ll see, in its justification for the new rule, the Trump administration engages in a factual and legal analysis that ranges from misleading to flat-out false.
Today, the Trump administration confirmed what was leaked yesterday: It plans to issue a new regulation that could result in millions of women across the country losing access to contraception and allow bosses to make personal health care decisions for their female employees.
Religious freedom is a fundamental American value. It gives us all the right to believe—or not—as we see fit. But it doesn’t give anyone the right to harm or discriminate against others. Denying women access to contraception in the name of religion is discrimination, plain and simple.
Several US senators have introduced legislation to overturn Trump’s recent “religious freedom” executive order.
Yesterday, during his National Day of Prayer ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, President Donald Trump continued his assault on religious freedom by signing an executive order. In a speech that reads more like a fake viral email than a presidential address, Donald Trump substituted showmanship for sincerity: While claiming to protect religious liberty, he trampled it.
US Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) and US Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) today introduced the Equality Act, which would protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. It builds on our nation’s tradition of expanding civil-rights protections to ensure that more of our neighbors are protected from discrimination based on who they are.
This week's rulings in federal court are undoubtedly huge victories for the LGBTQ community. It also means that now’s the time to be even more vigilant in protecting against efforts to undermine the progress towards full LGBTQ equality.
Last week, former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson, a Republican from Wyoming, extended a piece of advice to fellow Republican President Donald J. Trump on his rumored draft “religious freedom” executive order that would allow the use of religion to discriminate: “Don’t do it.”
Donald J. Trump will address a joint session of Congress tonight and will be setting out his vision and goals for his new administration. While we don’t know the full details of what he will say, we will be watching for his comments on initiatives that may harm our LGBTQ neighbors and others in the name of religion.
Last night the Trump administration officially revoked an Obama-era guidance reminding public schools that a provision in a 1972 federal law known as Title IX prohibits discrimination against transgender students, including denying them access to the restrooms consistent with their gender identity.
According to new Public Religion Research Institute analysis, a clear majority of religious Americans oppose business owners using their religious beliefs to deny goods and services to LGBTQ individuals and couples. Indeed, religious freedom gives us the freedom to believe— or not— as we see fit. It does not, however, permit anyone to use religion as an excuse to discriminate.
We will continue to fight for our neighbors— LGBTQ people, women, religious minorities, non-theists and anyone who faces discrimination based on someone else’s religious beliefs. But we need your help too. You need to contact the White House and tell the President to reject any executive order that sanctions discrimination in the name of religion.