Board Member Dan Bryant's Recent Opinion PieceDan Bryant, Senior Minister of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Eugene, also serves on the board of directors for Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon. His opinion piece recently ran in the Register Guard. You can view it here, or read it in full below.
We are in the midst of a political debate on the nature of religious freedom, one of the great legacies of this nation. The political question is this: does the First Amendment guarantee the right of an employer to deny employees benefits on the basis of religious doctrine when the work of those employees is not religious in nature and the employer is not a church, synagogue or temple? In other words, can a school or hospital, owned by a religious organization, deny a math teacher, nurse or housekeeper coverage for birth control on the basis of religious freedom? The Obama administration said no, it could not - and then softened its position by requiring that insurers, not employers, provide birth control services.
As a strong defender of the First Amendment, I affirm the importance to err on the side of religious freedom when in doubt. It is most unfortunate, however, that the only religious voices being heard are on one side of the debate. Some have charged the Obama administration with promoting a war on religion. Such characterization is unfair and blatantly untrue.
There are just as many religious leaders who support the new policy as those who oppose it. I am part of a local clergy group that has supported reproductive rights for women for two decades. Most Planned Parenthood affiliates across the country work with similar groups in their communities.
What has been largely ignored in the public debate are those religious voices that not only support reproductive rights as a basic human right, but who also see it as a tenet of their religious beliefs. There are many reasons why people of faith support contraception.
Many of us believe that family planning is a family value. Can there be anything of greater importance for parents than bringing a child into this world? We must treat that responsibility with the greatest respect and intentionality it deserves as an act of faith.
As people who believe that the earth has been entrusted to our care, we believe that our call to be good stewards of creation includes responsible reproduction to allow for the highest quality of life for every child born on this earth.
Finally, we support the empowerment of women to take control of their own bodies and destinies. If social justice is a religious value, then justice for women requires full access to birth control. Perhaps the greatest injustice is when men decide for women what reproductive rights they will or will not have.
For too long religious leaders in particular, including from my own protestant tradition, have ignored the health concerns of women on these issues. It is precisely for that reason that I have joined with many other clergy in our community and across the country to work with groups such as Planned Parenthood to support women in achieving the access they have been historically denied.
Family planning through responsible use of contraception saves lives, helps prevents unintended pregnancies, improves the outcomes for children, protects the earth and reduces abortion. The Institute of Medicine recommends that birth control be included as a preventive health care benefit because it can improve women's health and the health of their families.
Most importantly, birth control is a matter of conscience determined by the values of each individual. For those of us who hold these values as part of our faith, the denial of full access to contraception based on the place of employment is itself a denial of religious freedom. Decisions about contraceptive use should be made according to the dictates and beliefs of each employee, not employers.
The Obama administration has set forth a policy which is widely supported by the general public, including people of faith. It exempts 335,000 churches, synagogues and temples and it allows other religious institutions to avoid paying for that which goes against their doctrine. I believe it is a policy which respects religious freedom as guaranteed in the First Amendment. It is a policy that is good for women, good for families and good for our nation.