A year ago, when Donald Trump and Mike Pence were elected to the highest offices in the land, Americans United warned of the many threats this administration posed to church-state separation. We promised that if any of those threats came to fruition, we would be ready to fight back and defend religious freedom.
Americans United is following through on a promise we made when the Trump administration announced an attack on women’s healthcare last month: We’ve filed a federal lawsuit challenging the administration’s new regulations that allow employers and universities to use religion as an excuse to deny their staff and students health insurance coverage for birth control.
The Trump Administration is taking yet another step towards making it easier for taxpayer-funded organizations to use religion to discriminate.
A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health revealed that the abortion rate in the United States decreased by 25 percent from 2008 to 2014, in large part due to improved access to contraception.
Last Friday, the Trump Administration announced major policy changes that significantly weaken the principle of church-state separation and serve as a blueprint for using religion to discriminate, especially against women and LGBTQ people.
The two new rules that offer organizations and corporations the right to deny women insurance coverage for contraception made the news. Less coverage was given to the Department of Justice’s 25-page guidance titled, “Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty.” This guidance contains extreme interpretations of the law in an effort to give a greenlight to religious exemptions, regardless of how an exemption would affect other people or the public interest.
Religious freedom is a fundamental value, but it does not allow religion to be used as an excuse to harm other people.
Here are just a few of the most troubling ways the guidance could be used:
- People and corporations may cite religion as an excuse to ignore nondiscrimination laws that protect women and LGBTQ people.
- Taxpayer-funded organizations can claim a right to discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion. They can also use a religious litmus test to decide whom they will serve within the government-funded social service program and which services they will provide, even if it conflicts with the terms of the government grant or contract.
- The government will give religious exemptions to businesses and government employees, even if the result is taking away a right or benefit the law guarantees to someone else.
In other words, the guidance allows taxpayer-funded organizations, corporations, and individuals to use religion as a trump card to almost any law.
This guidance misses the mark: Our laws should be a shield to protect religious freedom and not a sword to harm others. Our country is strongest when we are all free to believe or not, as we see fit, and to practice our faith without hurting others.
Religious freedom is about fairness. It means we don’t treat people differently because their beliefs are different from ours. It isn’t fair to deny women access to vital healthcare—a benefit guaranteed by law. Stripping insurance coverage for birth control is nothing more than discrimination.
Today, the House of Representatives will likely vote on an amendment to a large spending bill that would prohibit the District of Columbia from enforcing one of its employment nondiscrimination laws.
Saturday is Women’s Equality Day, when Americans mark the anniversary of the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote. It’s a welcome opportunity to reflect on how far our nation has advanced in the fight for equal rights. And it’s a stark reminder of just how far we have left to go.
Today, in a win for women’s health, a federal appeals court issued an opinion in Real Alternatives v. Burwell that will ensure that employees at a secular, nonprofit organization continue to have access to contraception.
Some Georgia Republican party activists have not given up on passing “religious freedom” legislation that could use religion to justify discrimination and deny rights and access to healthcare to others.
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.
Laws Should Be A Shield To Protect Religious Freedom, Not A Sword To Harm Others.
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.
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.