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Farmington Hills, MI, June 30, 2014 – Today’s Supreme Court ruling dealt an unbelievable blow to women’s healthcare and religious freedom. In its 5-4 decision, the High Court essentially ruled that privately-held, for-profit corporations have religious rights, rights that permit them to refuse to provide some contraceptive insurance coverage to employees. “That corporations could be deemed to have religious freedom redefines the guarantees of the First Amendment, depriving employees, most specifically women, of the right to pursue their individual religious beliefs,” said Society for Humanistic Judaism (SHJ) Executive Director Bonnie Cousens, in a statement issued following the ruling. “At a time when 99 percent of women have used birth control during their lives, this ruling permits corporations, rather than women themselves, to make these personal health care decisions, decisions that should be made by an individual in consultation with medical professionals. The Court’s failure to protect women’s access to healthcare as guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act, especially when coupled with last week’s decision disallowing some buffer zones for protesters at abortion clinics, is a serious setback for women’s rights.”
As Humanistic Jews, we in the SHJ recognize that all people have the fundamental right to determine the course of their own lives. Contraceptive choice is only one of the many components of this personal freedom. A woman’s ability to access contraception shouldn’t depend on where she works or on the beliefs of her boss or of the company’s owners.
This ruling has the potential to harm women and all those who would benefit from employer-paid healthcare for contraception. The ruling, in effect, allows for-profit companies to engage in the exercise of religion and therefore impose their religious beliefs to the detriment of their employees who do not share those beliefs, thereby limiting an employee’s right to make a personal healthcare decisions with which their employer disagrees. Although this decision narrowly defines the scope of medical treatments covered, ultimately, the ruling could be extended to other corporations, including publicly-held corporations, or other medical or life decisions, including the decision to use other forms of contraception, to have an abortion, to use in-vitro fertilization, to marry a person of the same sex, to have a child as a single woman, to have a blood transfusion or be vaccinated, or to donate to stem-cell research.
The SHJ was party to the amicus brief filed by the Anti-Defamation League and a broad spectrum of religious organizations in support of the government in the cases of Burwell (Sebelius) v. Hobby Lobby and Burwell (Sebelius) v. Conestoga Wood Specialties. The amicus brief argued that a ruling for the corporations would allow employers to impose their own religious beliefs on employees, thereby undermining the employees’ free exercise of religion.
In addition, the SHJ joined more than 40 fellow member organizations of the Coalition for Liberty & Justice in a statement denouncing discrimination and supporting real religious liberty for all; the groups wrote. “We are united in our belief that public policies should both respect religious liberty and protect against the use of religious beliefs to discriminate or undermine equality.”
The Society for Humanistic Judaism is the national umbrella organization for Humanistic Jewish congregations in North America. These congregations embrace a human-centered philosophy that celebrates Jewish culture without supernatural underpinnings. Humanistic Jews value their Jewish identity and the aspects of Jewish culture that offer a genuine expression of their contemporary way of life. Humanistic Judaism embraces the belief in the human capacity to create a better world rather than in reliance on a deity.
There are currently more than 30 congregations and communities in the United States and Canada that are affiliated with this growing movement. Forty-nine percent of the United States’ 5.5 million Jews say that their outlook is secular, and forty-eight percent do not belong to a synagogue or other Jewish organization, according to the American Jewish Identification Survey undertaken by professional statisticians under the auspices of the Center for Jewish Studies at the City University of New York. The Society for Humanistic Judaism helps to organize local congregations and havurot, creates and disseminates celebrational and educational materials, provides national programs, including programs for teens and young adults, and serves the needs of individual members who do not live near an existing Humanistic congregation.