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'Religious Liberty' Misinterpreted by Contraceptive Coverage Opponents, Legal Expert Argues in Op-Ed

'Religious Liberty' Misinterpreted by Contraceptive Coverage Opponents, Legal Expert Argues in Op-Ed

January 16, 2014 — "Exempting ordinary, nonreligious, profit-seeking businesses from a general law because of the religious beliefs of their owners would be extraordinary, especially when doing so would shift the costs of observing those beliefs to those of other faiths or no faith," Frederick Mark Gedicks of Brigham Young University Law School writes in a Washington Post opinion piece about the contraceptive coverage cases before the Supreme Court.

Although the plaintiffs -- two for-profit businesses -- claim that the contraceptive coverage rules pose "a grave threat to their religious liberty," the real threat to religious liberty "comes from the prospect that the court might permit a for-profit business to impose the costs of its owners' anti-contraception beliefs on employees who do not share them by forcing employees to pay hundreds of dollars or more out-of-pocket each year for contraception and related services that should be covered under the law," according to Gedicks, who holds the Guy Anderson Chair at BYU Law and is the co-author of a forthcoming paper in the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review.

He writes that such a situation would violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which "prevents the government from requiring people to bear the burdens of religions to which they do not belong and whose teachings they do not practice."

Gedicks adds, "If the court agrees and grants these businesses the religious exemption they seek ... the burden on the employees is significant." He notes, "Some of the most reliable and cost-effective contraceptives have up-front costs approaching $1,000," while generic birth control pills could cost "hundreds of dollars a year."

Gedicks writes, "Americans must be free to practice their respective faiths, but also free from bearing the burdens of their employer's faith." He concludes, "The Supreme Court should ensure the liberty of all Americans by rejecting the efforts of for-profit businesses to impose their owners' religion on employees" (Gedicks, Washington Post, 1/15).