On January 20th, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that most employers will need to cover contraception in their basic benefits packages. Bearing in mind the religious objections of some to contraception, the administration also included an exemption that will allow religious institutions that exist for religious purposes and primarily employ and serve those who share their religious values to opt out of providing contraception.
Despite the administration’s inclusion of an exemption for religious institutions such as churches, some have expressed concerns that that this rule impinges on the religious rights of some by requiring religiously-affiliated employers, such as Catholic universities and hospitals, to cover contraception. As an attorney and a member of the House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution, I am extremely sensitive to concerns regarding religious freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. This is why I support the exemption as written.
Protection of religious freedom means considering the faiths and beliefs of everyone involved. Just as the beliefs of Catholics at Catholic institutions must be respected, so too must we respect the beliefs of other religious and non-religious followers. Take, for example, a Catholic university where Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and followers of other faiths work — should these individuals be denied access to contraception even though their religions do not oppose contraception use? If we expand the religious exemption too far, and allow religiously-affiliated institutions to deny contraception to their employees regardless of their religious beliefs, we begin to see the beliefs and rights of those who support and require contraception infringed upon.
A balance must be struck between protecting the rights of religious followers and others who may be impacted by a religious exemption.