The ACLU is famous for standing up for religious liberty and it does so once again with an amicus brief filed August 3 in a Missouri case, O’Brien Industrial Holdings v. Department of Health and Human Services. This is another claim by a secular business – a holding company for various mining and manufacturing ventures – that the federal contraception rule is a violation of religious liberty. But this isn’t about freedom – it’s about religious discrimination.
Almost five decades ago a court in South Carolina considered a claim that a restaurant owner could refuse to serve African-American customers because integration of the races was against his religious beliefs. The court rejected that claim, and courts went on to do the same when faced with other, similar claims that religion can be used to discriminate.
Other claims include:
• In 1966, three African-American customers brought a suit against Piggie Park restaurants and their owner, Maurice Bessinger, for refusal to serve them. Bessinger argued that enforcement of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits that type of discrimination, violated his religious freedom “since his religious beliefs compel[ed] him to oppose any integration of the races whatever.”
• In 1976, Roanoke Valley Christian Schools added a “head of household” supplement to their teachers’ salaries – which according to their beliefs meant married men, and not women. When sued under the Equal Pay Act, the pastor of the church affiliated with the school said, “[w]hen we turned to the Scriptures to determine head of household, by scriptural basis, we found that the Bible clearly teaches that the husband is the head of the house, head of the wife, head of the family.”
• In the 1980s, Bob Jones University, a religiously-affiliated school in South Carolina, wanted an exemption from a rule denying tax-exempt status to schools that practice racial discrimination. Their claim: the sponsors of the University “genuinely believe[d] that the Bible forbids interracial dating and marriage.”
The authors point out that access to contraception is crucial for women’s equal participation in society and “religious objections” are discriminatory.
“Fortunately, in all of these cases, the court rejected the claim that religious beliefs can trump anti-discrimination laws.”
“The court in today’s case should follow history and what courts have long recognized: that religion is not a license to discriminate.”