ACLU of Massachusetts Communications Director Chris Ott originally guest-wrote this blog for Boston.com.
Senator Scott Brown would presumably never support legislation allowing a restaurant owner to refuse service to members of a specific race--and rightly so. We've made it unlawful for business owners to impose views like this on their customers or the communities where they do business.
Senator Brown would also never support legislation making it legal for a business owner to refuse to hire people of another religious faith. Except for ministerial-type positions, we've passed laws to prevent that kind of discrimination too.
That's what makes it confusing--and alarming--that Senator Brown now supports legislation that would allow employers to impose their beliefs on employees. Senator Brown has cosponsored an extreme measure known as the Blunt Amendment, which would allow any employer to deny coverage for any health care service--not just contraception, but things like HIV testing, cervical cancer, fertility treatment, genetic testing, and more--by citing "religious beliefs or moral convictions."
We need to tell Senator Brown that no one's boss should be making decisions about employees' use of birth control, or other private health matters.
Over the past couple of weeks, religious groups have claimed that there is a "war on religion" because the federal Affordable Care Act would require health insurance plans for employees to cover, without cost, certain preventive health care (including contraception) in their plans. But this is hardly a "war on religion."
Already in Massachusetts, religious-affiliated hospitals are not exempt from having to provide emergency contraception to rape victims at hospital emergency rooms, and have also been required to cover contraception in employee health plans if other prescriptions are covered.
Scott Brown, as a state lawmaker, voted for the final versions of the legislation that made that law. Why has he changed his views now?
Additionally, many of today's opponents of offering these plans are large businesses, such as hospitals or universities that serve the public and hire employees regardless of religion, and they often receive taxpayer dollars for their work. There is no reason to allow them to impose religious views on their employees.
In response to the demand that women's health care be sacrificed, the Obama administration fortunately offered a smart, reasonable compromise, which ensures respect for true religious freedom and prevents these employers from imposing their views on others.
The compromise is that religious employers who object to birth control don't have to specifically include it in their employee health plans--but the insurance companies will have to make sure it is provided anyway. And for those concerned about cost, insurance companies are likely to save money, since the Pill and other contraceptives are much less expensive than unplanned pregnancies.
Practically speaking, this means that employees get coverage for birth control regardless of what their employers think--and that's exactly how it should be. Religious liberty is a personal thing, and it certainly doesn't mean what Senator Brown and others are essentially saying it should: the ability to impose religious convictions on others.
In this case, Senator Brown and others, such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, are hardly acting as defenders of religious liberty. In reality, they're simply trying to impose their views on others, and to deny religious liberty to individuals who just want to exercise their own religious or moral judgment in personal matters that are now--literally, thanks to the Obama move--none of their employer's business.