The right to practice one’s faith, or no religion, is one of our most treasured liberties, which is why the ACLU routinely fights to protect the right to worship and express religious beliefs. But make no mistake, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne case is about restricting women’s reproductive freedom, not about religion. The diocese has the right to practice its religion, but not to impose its beliefs on others.
The Affordable Care Act requires the diocese to submit a two-page form to exclude contraceptive coverage from its health insurance. The organization is relieved of any obligation to pay for these benefits. A third party then covers these costs, and it is prohibited from indirectly charging the diocese. The diocese can stay true to its faith, and women have access to reproductive healthcare benefits.
An important component of gender equality is the ability of women to decide whether and when to have children. Access to contraception has enabled women to control their futures, permitting them to attain higher levels of education and to achieve greater economic equality. Cost plays a major role in whether women have access to safe and effective contraception.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) prohibits the federal government from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion absent a “compelling interest” and use of the least restrictive means of furthering that interest. RFRA doesn’t protect against all burdens on religion, only substantial ones. In its lawsuit, the diocese objects not only to paying for contraceptive care, but to having others pay for it. To steal an analogy from the courts, this is like a pacifist who not only refuses to serve in wartime, but also claims that a government draft of anyone would violate his religious beliefs. As one court explained, expanding RFRA to this extent would give “each citizen … an individual veto to prohibit the government action solely because it offends his religious beliefs . . . ” RFRA was intended to protect individual liberty, not to deny other people their rights or benefits – even in the guise of religion.