Religious Liberty for Dummies

Thom Lambert —  9 February 2012

According to Senators Barbara Boxer, Jeanne Shaheen, and Patty Murray, the Catholic Church is the real bully in the fight over whether religious employers must include coverage for contraception in the insurance policies they offer their employees.  In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, the three responded to, in their words, the “aggressive and misleading campaign” against this new Obamacare mandate.  They wrote:

Those now attacking the new health-coverage requirement claim that it is an assault on religious liberty, but the opposite is true.  Religious freedom means that Catholic women who want to follow their church’s doctrine can do so, avoiding the use of contraception in any form.  But the millions of American women who choose to use contraception should not be forced to follow religious doctrine, whether Catholic or non-Catholic.

The three Senators seem to believe that as long as the government doesn’t force Catholic women to use birth control and the morning after pill, religious liberty is protected.  They also believe that in praying to the Almighty One (not that Almighty One) for permission not to pay for a medical intervention that offends their deeply and sincerely held religious beliefs, Catholic officials are trying to force women to follow their religious doctrine.

That’s ridiculous, and it shows how desperate the defenders of President Obama’s intrusion on individual conscience have become.  In a world in which religious employers were exempt from paying for a measure that violates their sacred beliefs, any woman who didn’t share those beliefs would be perfectly free to obtain birth control.  The Catholic Church, after all, doesn’t have the power to overrule Griswold v. Connecticut.

By contrast, in the world of Mr. Obama’s contraception mandate, Catholic officials who choose to follow their consciences by refusing to subsidize interventions that violate their religious beliefs may ultimately be thrown in jail.  That, Honorable Senators, is a full-frontal assault on religious liberty.

[More on the deeply misguided contraception mandate here.]

Thom Lambert


I am a law professor at the University of Missouri Law School. I teach antitrust law, business organizations, and contracts. My scholarship focuses on regulatory theory, with a particular emphasis on antitrust.

15 responses to Religious Liberty for Dummies


    If your argument is upheld and the mandate is struck down, maybe we libertarians should invent a religion that prohibits a wide variety of the stupid things government now spends our tax money on, so that we can use the same argument to get out of paying for them.


    Of course, the Catholic Church is the “real bully” in this fight. There would not be a fight if the Catholic Church was not so obsessive about sex and controlling people’s lives and bodies, especially the lives and bodies of women. Remember, the Catholic Church wants to deny contraceptives to everyone, and a fortiori wants to deny free contraceptives to anyone. And the Church now has its own presidential candidates (Santorum, maybe Gingrich) who are itching to put Church dogma into legislative effect, notwithstanding the First Amendment and Griswold. So surprise, surprise, the Church attempts to pick a fight with Obama, the sitting president who is unwilling to follow the Church’s hard line. And, surprise, surprise, it backfires on them, when it turns out that a hefty majority of the American people (both Catholic and non-Catholic) are in favor of the free availability of contraceptives.

    Remember, when you are talking about “real bullies,” ask yourself who spent a couple of hundred years torturing people who did not believe the Catholic Church line. It sure wasn’t Obama or the Democratic Party.


    Very disappointing to see the premier law and economics website used for posting religious/political commentary.


    Couldn’t the catholic organizations affected by this ruling avoid it by cancelling their health benefits altogether?


      They could, but that means that their employees would not have health benefits. Is that what we really want?


    What is repeatedly ignored by proponents of this regulation is the fact that this rule doesn’t just apply to organizations that take government money. Instead it applies to all organizations, even if they don’t take government money of any sort.

    Additionally, it strikes me as pretty stupid that contraceptive coverage has to be included in all health insurance offerings in this country. We are basically getting an insurance system that is entirely top down. This rule may be worse than that mental health parity act which also seems pretty damn stupid.

    north fork investor 9 February 2012 at 12:05 pm

    not exactly why I read this blog.


      this post is exactly why i read this blog

        northfork investor 10 February 2012 at 12:52 pm

        “We are a group of law professors and/or economists who teach and write in the business law area, broadly defined, and including especially antitrust, industrial organization and corporate law/corporate governance.. . . .

        Truth on the Market offers commentary on law, business, economics and more.’

        I guess its covered under the “more” category

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