Magazine article The Christian Century

Reasonable Exception

Magazine article The Christian Century

Reasonable Exception

Article excerpt

The U.S. Catholic bishops have been assailing the Obama administration for a new rule--starting in 2013--that will require Catholic hospitals and universities to pay for contraceptives as part of their employees' and students' health insurance plans. The Catholic leaders, who are morally opposed to the use of contraceptives, say that the rule infringes on their religious liberty. The bishops have a good point.

In guidelines announced last summer, the Department of Health and Human Services acknowledged the objections of Catholics (and some other religious groups) and exempted religious institutions from the rule requiring health insurers to include contraceptives. The exception included churches, but it did not extend to Catholic-run institutions such as hospitals and universities, which serve a religiously diverse public and employ many non-Catholics. Catholic leaders pressed for an expanded exemption; last month HHS denied the request.

Offering a broader religious exemption is the wiser course. The nation has a long history of carving out religious exemptions to allow religious believers to live out their faith. During times of a military draft, those who have religious objections to serving in the military are generally exempted. Exemptions are also made in the workplace to accommodate religious dress codes. The underlying rationale for such accommodations, as constitutional scholar Douglas Laycock notes, is that religious liberty, to be meaningful, must allow people "to practice their faith, not just believe it. …

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