Religious freedom in the dock: The high court on the contraception mandate


In its last decision of 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius that closely held corporations cannot be compelled to provide health coverage that conflicts with the religious beliefs of their owners. The 5-4 decision was controversial, even within the court, with two separate dissenting opinions.

Religious freedom has become the broad catchphrase at the heart of today’s biggest culture war issues, ranging from same-sex marriage and gay rights generally to the question of how to accommodate diverse faiths as well as nonbelievers in an increasingly pluralistic American society.

And there is more to come: The high court is likely to hear arguments in the fall from nonprofit faith-based employers who believe that the exemptions and accommodations offered by the administration are not broad enough.

This long-running saga is paralleled by a host of other ongoing, hot-button debates — over the rights of a baker to refuse to make a cake for a gay wedding, for example, or whether a community can deny a building permit to a mosque, or what a military chaplain can say about faith without infringing on the rights of nonbelievers.

This edition of ReligionLink is a source guide on religious freedom in the United States that provides background and resources for reporters covering all of these controversial topics.


Articles, blog posts



National sources

With a focus on religious freedom

  • American Religious Freedom Program

    The Ethics and Public Policy Center’s American Religious Freedom Program works to counter what it says are misunderstandings by many Americans about the First Amendment’s Free Exercise and Establishment clauses on religion. The clauses were meant to ensure a robust role for religion in the public sphere, not to relegate faith merely to a matter of private worship, program organizers say. Contact through Chandler Epp, Jennifer Sheran or Adrienne Young at DeMoss.

  • Americans United for Separation of Church and State

    Americans United for Separation of Church and State describes itself as a “nonpartisan organization dedicated to preserving church-state separation to ensure religious freedom for all Americans.”

  • Cheryl B. Anderson

    The Rev. Cheryl B. Anderson is a professor of Old Testament at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill., and an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church.


    She has written an opinion piece on why she thinks the theology used to oppose the contraception mandate is flawed.


    Contact: 847-866-3979.
  • Center for Inquiry

    The Center for Inquiry works to foster a secular society devoted to humanist values and freedom of inquiry. Its public education programs focus on paranormal and fringe science claims; religion, ethics and society; and medicine and health. The center is based in Amherst, N.Y., and has branches throughout the U.S. and the world. Ronald A. Lindsay is president and CEO.

    The center offers a page of resources on the Hobby Lobby case.

  • Paul D. Clement

    Paul D. Clement is an attorney with the Washington, D.C., law firm Bancroft PLLC.

    He argued for Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties before the Supreme Court in March 2014.

  • Robert A. Destro

    Robert A. Destro is a law professor and founding director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Law and Religion at the Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C. He is an expert in freedom of religion, constitutional law (separation of powers), international human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of association, bioethics, marriage law and civil rights.  Destro served as a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 1983 to 1989.


    In April 2014, he co-chaired a national call-in forum on the Hobby Lobby case.

  • Daniel Mach

    Daniel Mach is director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s program on freedom of religion and belief.

  • Tony Perkins

    Tony Perkins is president of the Family Research Council, which works to foster “a culture in which human life is valued, families flourish, and religious liberty thrives.”

    Perkins is one of 2,500 religious leaders who released a letter in 2012 opposing Obama’s contraception coverage mandate.

  • Alan Sears

    Alan Sears is president, CEO and general counsel of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal alliance based in Scottsdale, Ariz., whose focus is defending religious liberty. The ADF sponsors the Day of Dialogue in schools around the country to “counter the promotion of the homosexual agenda and express an opposing viewpoint from a Christian perspective.” It also supported the legislation that would have allowed Arizona business owners to deny services to same-sex couples for religious reasons.

    Contact: 480-444-0020.
  • Jay Sekulow

    Jay Sekulow is chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice in Washington, D.C., a leading pro-life religious legal advocacy group that frequently litigates on behalf of religious groups.

    He and his organization have been active in the fight against the contraceptive coverage mandate.

  • Hannah Smith

    Hannah Smith is senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing employers in several legal challenges to the birth control mandate.

  • Donald B. Verrilli Jr.

    Donald B. Verrilli Jr. is an attorney and the solicitor general of the United States. He argued the government’s case in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga before the Supreme Court. Contact via the solicitor general’s office.

    Contact: 202-514-2201.
  • Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein

    Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein is founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a New Mexico-based organization that says the wall separating church and state has been seriously breached in the U.S. military. Weinstein, a former military attorney who graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy, is co-author of With God on Our Side: One Man’s War Against an Evangelical Coup in America’s Military. Contact through Bekki Miller.

With a focus on health or reproductive rights

  • Jessica Arons

    Jessica Arons is president and CEO of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project in Washington, D.C., which favors full reproductive freedom and access to the related technologies for all women, regardless of age. Contact through Sara Alcid.

  • John Brehany

    John Brehany is executive director of the Catholic Medical Association. He says there has been some confusion about whether and when sterilization is ever acceptable at Catholic hospitals. His organization opposes the contraception coverage rule and says the revised mandate falls far short of addressing opponents’ concerns.

  • Carol Keehan

    Sister Carol Keehan is president and chief executive officer of the Catholic Health Association, which has worked to improve children’s health care coverage through a partnership with the Campaign for Children’s Health Care. Contact Fred Caesar.

    The association initially reacted positively when the White House revised the coverage mandate but later said it planned to scrutinize the matter further.

With a focus on LGBT rights

  • Rose Saxe

    Rose Saxe is an adjunct faculty member at Columbia Law School in New York and a staff attorney at the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender and AIDS Projects. She has worked on issues involving the intersection of civil rights for LGBT people and religious freedom and expression.


  • Andrew Abela

    Andrew Abela is dean of the School of Business and Economics and associate professor of marketing at the Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C. Abela focuses his research on the integrity of the marketing process, including marketing ethics, Catholic social doctrine and internal communication. He is co-editor of A Catechism for Business: Tough Ethical Questions & Insights From Catholic Teaching, and in 2009 he received the Novak Award from the Acton Institute for “significant contributions to the study of the relationship between religion and economic liberty.” Abela has been quoted in the National Catholic RegisterThe Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.


  • Caitlin E. Borgmann

    Caitlin E. Borgmann is an associate professor at City University of New York School of Law and editor of the Reproductive Rights Prof Blog, which posts news about abortion and other reproductive rights issues. Borgmann has testified before several state legislatures about reproductive rights.

  • Alan E. Brownstein

    Alan E. Brownstein is a professor of constitutional law at the University of California, Davis. He is a nationally known expert on religious freedom issues and has written widely about religious land use issues and states’ rights.

  • James D. Cox

    James D. Cox is a professor of law at Duke University Law School in Durham, N.C.  He  is an expert on corporate law and filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court supporting the government’s position in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga challenge to the contraception mandate. The brief argues, in part, that the religious values of shareholders do not pass through to the corporation itself and that such a finding would be contrary to established corporation law.


  • Cole Durham

    Cole Durham is Susa Young Gates University Professor of Law at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and director of the university’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies. Durham is internationally known for his work protecting religious freedoms, and he is one of nearly 100 scholars nationwide who signed a letter denouncing Obama’s contraception coverage mandate.

  • Ryan E. Lawrence

    Dr. Ryan E. Lawrence is a psychiatry resident at Columbia University Medical Center and is on the staff of the Program on Medicine and Religion at the University of Chicago. He co-authored a 2007 article in the New England Journal of Medicine about health professionals’ views on providing treatments to which they have moral objections, such as certain contraceptives. He also has written other scholarly articles on related topics. Lawrence’s academic credentials include an M.Div. degree.

  • Melissa Moschella

    Melissa Moschella is an assistant professor of philosophy at the Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C. Her areas of expertise include religious freedom, marriage and sexual ethics, church-state issues and bioethics. Moschella is a frequent commentator to the media. See contributions she made in 2014 to The Washington Post and National Review, as well as appearances she made on EWTN News Nightly and Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.


  • Sandra Reznick

    Dr. Sandra Reznick is an associate professor in the department of pharmaceutical sciences at St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y. She teaches a graduate-level course in reproductive pharmacology and can explain differences between the various “morning-after” pills, such as Plan B and Ella.

  • Neil Siegel

    Neil Siegel is a professor of law and political science and director of the Program in Public Law at Duke University in Durham, N.C. He is an expert on constitutional law and theory, and the Supreme Court. Much of his recent work has been on the Affordable Care Act.


Regional sources

In the Northeast

  • Helen M. Alvaré

    Helen M. Alvaré is a professor of law at George Mason University in Virginia. Alvaré chaired the commission investigating clerical abuse in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and was an adviser to Pope Benedict XVI’s Pontifical Council for the Laity, as well as an ABC News consultant. Her scholarship regularly addresses current controversies about marriage, parenting and the new reproductive technologies.

    She previously worked with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-life Activities, and her areas of expertise include new reproductive technologies. She can discuss Catholic positions on contraception within the context of American civil law.

  • Joyce S. Dubensky

    Joyce S. Dubensky is CEO of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, a New York City-based secular nonprofit that promotes interfaith work and religious respect.

    She has spoken out against the Hobby Lobby ruling, saying it institutionalizes religious beliefs.

  • Garrett Epps

    Garrett Epps is a law professor at the University of Baltimore who specializes in religious freedom. He is a former staff writer for The Washington Post and has written for many other periodicals.

  • C. Welton Gaddy

    The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy is president of the Interfaith Alliance and author of numerous books, including First Freedom First: A Citizen’s Guide to Protecting Religious Liberty and the Separation of Church and State. Gaddy serves as pastor for preaching and worship at Northminster Baptist Church in Monroe, La. The alliance is based in Washington, D.C.

    Contact: 202-238-3300, 202) 466-0567.
  • Mary Ann Glendon

    Mary Ann Glendon is the Learned Hand Professor at Harvard Law School and was a vocal advocate of  Pope John Paul II’s views on women, abortion, sexuality and related issues. In 2004 the pope appointed her as head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, at that time the highest Vatican post ever held by a woman. From 2008 to 2009 she was the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.

    She is one of nearly 100 scholars nationwide who signed a letter denouncing Obama’s contraception coverage mandate.

  • Jennifer A. Marshall

    Jennifer A. Marshall is director of domestic policy at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., and former director of family studies at the Family Research Council. She has written widely about Republican support of moral issues such as abstinence education, defense of marriage and welfare.

    She co-hosted a Feb. 27, 2012, panel discussion of religious liberty issues raised by the contraception mandate.

  • Alan Mittleman

    Alan Mittleman is a professor of Jewish thought at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Manhattan as well as the director of JTS’ Tikvah Institute for Jewish Thought.

    He is one of nearly 100 scholars nationwide who signed a letter denouncing Obama’s contraception coverage mandate.

  • Stephen F. Schneck

    Stephen F. Schneck is chairman of the department of politics and director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., which studies current public policies regarding Catholic social attitudes.

    He has written that it is a mistake to assume that Catholic voters are monolithic or that they will all follow bishops’ lead on issues such as contraception.

In the South

  • Kim Colby

    Kim Colby is senior counsel at the Christian Legal Society in Springfield, Va., and has worked at the society’s Center for Law and Religious Freedom since 1981.

  • Derek H. Davis

    Derek H. Davis is dean of the College of Humanities and the Graduate School at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas. He is the author of publications on church and state issues and on religious freedom.

  • Christine E. Gudorf

    Christine E. Gudorf, professor of religious studies at Florida International University in Miami, has written about the issues of integrating ethics into hospital care. She teaches a course on reproductive ethics and wrote a chapter on contraception and abortion among Catholics for the book Sacred Rights: The Case for Contraception and Abortion in World Religions.

  • Francis Manion

    Francis Manion is senior counsel with the American Center for Law and Justice in Washington, D.C., who specializes in First Amendment law and pro-life legal matters.  He has represented pharmacists and other health care professionals who have refused on moral principle to provide certain services to patients.

  • Gerald R. McDermott

    Gerald R. McDermott is Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion at Roanoke College in Salem, Va. He is one of nearly 100 scholars nationwide who signed a letter denouncing Obama’s contraception coverage mandate.

  • Kathy Miller

    Kathy Miller is president of the Texas Freedom Network, a grassroots organization of religious and community leaders based in Austin that advocates for “a mainstream agenda of religious freedom and individual liberties to counter the religious right,” according to its website.  Contact through communications director Dan Quinn.

  • Russell D. Moore

    Russell D. Moore is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Contact through Elizabeth Bristow.

    He is one of nearly 100 scholars nationwide who signed a letter denouncing Obama’s contraception coverage mandate.

  • Dan Quinn

    Dan Quinn is spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network in Austin, a statewide, nonprofit, nonpartisan alliance that includes more than 7,500 religious and community leaders concerned about the “growing social and political influence of religious political extremists.” The group has been at the forefront of trying to prevent religious conservatives from controlling the content in school textbooks in Texas.

  • Mathew D. Staver

    Mathew D. Staver is founder and chairman of the Liberty Counsel, a civil liberties education and legal defense organization in Orlando, Fla., that focuses on freedom of speech and religious freedom.

  • John W. Whitehead

    John W. Whitehead is president and founder of the Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit organization in Charlottesville, Va., that works to advance religious freedom through litigation, education and advocacy. Although the institute has a Christian doctrinal statement, its services are not limited to Christians.

In the Midwest

  • Richard W. Garnett

    Richard W. Garnett is associate dean for faculty research and professor of law at Notre Dame University. His areas of expertise include school choice, church and state relations and religious freedom. He is the author of Education Reform at the Crossroads: Politics, the Constitution and the Battle Over School Choice and Taking Pierce Seriously: The Family, Religious Education and Harm to Children.

  • Scott C. Idleman

    Scott C. Idleman is a law professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee. He specializes in church-state issues, including religious freedom and land use questions.

  • Lady Liberty League

    The Lady Liberty League is a nonprofit group that advocates for religious freedom and freedom from religious discrimination for pagans. Its founder and co-executive director is Selena Fox, and it is located in Barneveld, Wis.

  • Thomas More Law Center

    The Thomas More Law Center is a law firm dedicated to the defense and promotion of the religious freedom of Christians. Contact president and chief counsel Richard Thompson in Ann Arbor, Mich.

  • Vincent Phillip Muñoz

    Vincent Phillip Muñoz teaches religion and and public life at the University of Notre Dame. He focuses on the founders and religious freedom.

  • Winnifred Fallers Sullivan

    Winnifred Fallers Sullivan chairs the department of religious studies and is an affiliate professor of law at Indiana University in Bloomington. She is interested in the legal regulation of religion in modern pluralistic societies. She wrote The Impossibility of Religious Freedom. Ask her to discuss the history of religious groups that are pressing for rights of religion over secularity, a movement she dates to the 1988 case Employment Division v. Smith.

In the West

  • Thomas A. Cavanaugh

    Thomas A. Cavanaugh is a philosophy professor at the University of San Francisco and one of nearly 100 scholars nationwide who signed a letter denouncing Obama’s contraception coverage mandate.

  • Frederick Mark Gedicks

    Frederick Mark Gedicks teaches constitutional law at Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School in Provo, Utah, and has written about religious freedom and the Establishment Clause. He has taught a symposium about land use controls and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal law that addresses religious freedom issues.

  • Kirtly Parker Jones

    Dr. Kirtly Parker Jones is a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Utah Medical School in Salt Lake City. She teaches the ethics of reproductive medicine.

    Contact: 801-581-3834.
  • Barbara A. McGraw

    Barbara A. McGraw is a professor of business administration at St. Mary’s College of California, in Moraga. She is the author of Rediscovering America’s Sacred Ground: Public Religion and Pursuit of the Good in a Pluralistic America and the co-editor of Taking Religious Pluralism Seriously: Spiritual Politics on America’s Sacred Ground, in which she argues that the freedom of conscience honored by the nation’s founders can be the “sacred ground” needed in a religiously pluralistic country.

  • North American Religious Liberty Association

    The North American Religious Liberty Association advocates a “broad interpretation” of the Free Exercise Clause and supports religious freedom. It is based in Simi Valley, Calif. Alvin Kibble is its president.

    Contact: 805-955-7675.
  • Malcolm Potts

    Malcolm Potts is an obstetrician and reproductive scientist and a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He has studied oral contraceptives since the 1960s and says the Catholic Church needs to recognize the health benefits – aside from contraception – of the birth control pill.

Related source guides

This edition was updated June 30, 2014, with the Supreme Court’s ruling.