Washington, D.C. — On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. to grant religious liberty protections to for-profit corporations, allowing the religious beliefs of the owners of for-profit, secular corporations to be used as justification to deny their employees the contraceptive health coverage that they are entitled to under federal law. The Court’sruling set a dangerous precedent by giving for-profit corporations a power that no employer should ever have—the right to impose a burden on their workers by coercing them to adhere to religious beliefs that are not their own. A new report released today by the Center for American Progress proposes legislative action to restore religious liberty protections by amending the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, and similar legislation.
Under CAP’s proposal, RFRA and similar state legislation providing for religious exemptions from generally applicable laws would be amended to clarify that one person’s religious liberty does not allow the person to impose their beliefs on, or discriminate against, others. Such action would bring RFRA to the level that Congress intended—providing strong religious liberty protections for those who deserve it, but ensuring that the provided exemptions do not burden others.
“The Court’s decision to side with Hobby Lobby opens the door for a number of other powerful entities to use religious liberty claims to impose their religious beliefs on others,” said Carmel Martin, Executive Vice President of Policy at the Center for American Progress and a co-author of the report. “Congress should clarify that RFRA should not be used as an excuse for forcing an employee to adhere to the religious beliefs of their boss. RFRA was designed to protect an individual’s right to believe according to one’s conscious while maintaining the freedom of others to live their lives as they choose.”
An example of CAP’s proposed amendment reads: “This section [referring to the existing statute] does not authorize exemptions that discriminate against, impose costs on, or otherwise harm others, including those who may belong to other religions and/or adhere to other beliefs.” This language will put reasonable restrictions on religious liberty protections, ensuring that religious liberty is not used as a tool to discriminate or deny needed medical care.
In addition to CAP’s legislative proposal, the report also examines to far-reaching implications of the Court’s Hobby Lobby decision and outlines how the ruling may serve as a slippery slope that dramatically transforms religious liberty from a fundamental value into a loophole that can be used to discriminate, dictate women’s health choices, evade federal protections, and promote unfair advantages in the corporate world.