As the Supreme Court prepares to hear two religious challenges to Obamacare’s birth control provision, it may appear that battle lines are drawn in the sand between faith communities and secular interests. But that’s actually somewhat of a false dichotomy. Not all religious groups are opposed to contraceptive coverage — and some are actually speaking up in favor of it, urging the nation’s highest court to rule in favor of the health law.
A group of 45 religious leaders have signed onto a letter in support of birth control coverage, pointing out that the two for-profit companies challenging Obamacare don’t speak for all people of faith. Although Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood are arguing that extending birth control coverage to workers is a violation of their religious liberty, the letter’s signatories point out that isn’t how that concept has traditionally been defined.
“Religious freedom means that each individual has the right to exercise their own beliefs and the right not to have others’ beliefs forced upon them,” the faith leaders write. “No single religious voice can speak for all faith traditions on contraception, nor should government take sides on religious differences. We call on our government to respect the beliefs and values of everyone’s faith by safeguarding equal access to contraception for those whose conscience leads them to use it.”
The Reverend Debra W. Haffner, the president of the Religious Institute and the primary coordinator behind the recent sign-on letter, said it’s a “myth” that people of faith don’t support family planning. “It is precisely because as faith leaders we know that life is sacred, that we believe that every woman must be able to plan her pregnancies intentionally without governmental interference and without her employer in her bedroom,” Haffner noted in a statement released on Tuesday. “We pray the U.S. Supreme Court is listening.”
A group of Catholic nuns is joining the cause, too. Although the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been one of the loudest opponents of Obamacare’s contraceptive provision, and has repeatedly pressured the White House to widen the health law’s existing religious liberty exemption, not every nun agrees. The National Coalition of American Nuns (NCAN), which has a long history of activism around issues of reproductive justice, is defending birth control coverage in a new online petition.
“This has gotten out of hand,” Sister Donna Quinn, who heads NCAN, told Religion Dispatches. “It isn’t ‘faith and freedom’ when reproductive autonomy isn’t extended by the Catholic Church to women. Now we have other Christian religions seeing what the bishops are doing and saying we will do likewise.”
Haffner has been helping NCAN organize its recent effort, as well as working to prepare for the upcoming oral arguments at the Supreme Court. Next week, when the justices will take up the two cases, the group of faith leaders is planning a peaceful gathering in response. Representatives from groups like Catholics for Choice, the Methodist Federation for Social Action, the National Council of Jewish Women, and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice will call for equitable access to birth control.
The recent activism around the birth control case is part of a larger effort to reorient the conversation around religion and sexuality. Progressive faith leaders have been working to demonstrate that religion isn’t inherently in conflict with reproductive rights, and hope to provide a counter to the right-wing messages that people of faith can’t support contraception and abortion. “The truth is that most people of faith, like the majority of Americans overall, support access to contraception, comprehensive sexuality education, and reproductive health care,” Rev. Harry Knox, the president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, told ThinkProgress in January.