Why People Need to Stop Saying that the New Healthcare Law Violates their Freedom of Religion

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Just in case you may be throwing around the first amendment whether you fully know what it means or not, here is a quick reminder. In regards to religion, the amendment contains two clauses: the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. The Establishment Clause states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” This has been interpreted to mean that a national religion cannot be established, nor can the government show preference of one religion over another. The Free Exercise Clause continues off of the Establishment Clause, by adding “or prohibiting the exercise thereof.”

The new healthcare plan states that “all religious institutions except for houses of worship would be required to cover birth control [in their employees’ health plans], including hospitals, schools and charities.” I have heard many times from “Catholics” that this law violates their freedom of religion. There are a certain number of errors with this belief.

First of all, no Catholic woman that has contraception covered in her health care is required to use it. They simply have the option to have it provided to them if they so choose. This seems like a no-brainer since polls show that 98% of sexually active Catholic women use some form of modern contraception (and 63% believe that it should be provided by insurance). Not to mention that people tend to forget that non-Catholics work for religious institutions as well.

You might still argue that these religious institutions are having their first amendment rights taken away by being forced to go against their beliefs and provide coverage of contraception to employees, right? Wrong. The 1990 United States Supreme Court case Employment Division v. Smith clearly states that the first amendment’s provision of “free exercise” does not allow a person to disobey a law based on religious reasons. A religious institution that follows the healthcare law is not being denied religious rights; they are following a U.S. law. In fact, if Catholic institutions were not required to provide access to contraception while other institutions were, that would be showing preference to a particular religion and the first amendment actually would be violated.

You can argue about the morality of using contraception all you want, but you cannot claim that the law violates anyone’s freedom of religion.  You would be wrong, and unless you are in the 2% of sexually active women who don’t use contraception, you would be a hypocrite as well. 

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