Despite the almost daily ominous rumblings we hear out of Washington about the Biden Administration’s reversal or watering down of the pro-life policies of previous Administrations, it’s important to note that when it comes to conscience rights of pro-life employees, all is not lost – at least not yet. Conscience laws that have been on the books for years are still on the books and pro-life healthcare workers and others should not hesitate to use them.
Here’s a recent example of a case we handled to a successful conclusion. In late March, we were contacted by a gentleman – let’s call him “Bill” – who works as a social worker at a Federally Qualified Health Center in a large city on the East Coast. The center’s mission is to provide healthcare for the homeless. According to Bill, the issue of abortion rarely, if ever, comes up in the day-to-day work of the center. Nevertheless, Bill and his co-employees were recently asked to sign and acknowledge a new “Reproductive Healthcare” policy the HR Director interpreted as requiring social workers like Bill to provide information to clients about where they could obtain abortions. It wasn’t optional: Sign this policy or find a new job. No “choice” for Bill.
Because Bill concluded that even referring people for abortions would amount to him participating in a procedure that violates his Christian beliefs about the sanctity of human life, he knew he couldn’t sign the policy. So he turned to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) for help. At the ACLJ, we’ve been fighting for the conscience rights of pro-life people in the workplace for more than two decades. We’ve gone to courts from the Supreme Court to local municipal courts and every court in between. We’ve represented people in federal and state administrative proceedings, testified before Congress and state legislatures, filed comments with federal agencies and amicus briefs at every level. We have unmatched expertise in the area of conscience rights. We were ready and able to go to bat for Bill.
We immediately sent a letter to Bill’s employer. The letter pointed out that Bill’s right to opt-out of signing the “Reproductive Healthcare” policy was protected by a mosaic of federal and state laws. For example, the so-called “Weldon Amendment” is a federal law that prohibits recipients of federal grant money from discriminating against any employee on the basis that the employee does not refer for abortions. There’s also the “Church Amendment” (ironically named for the Senator who proposed it, and not the Church) – a law enacted by a bipartisan majority of Congress in 1973 that, among other things, prohibits entities that take federal healthcare money from discriminating against individuals who object to participating in any part of an employer’s healthcare activity due to “religious beliefs or moral convictions.”
And even beyond abortion-specific or even healthcare-specific conscience protections, we pointed out that Title VII, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Bill’s state’s anti-discrimination laws would prohibit his employer from asking him to sign away – in advance – the right that those laws grant to all employees to request an accommodation of their religious beliefs, and the duty of employers to make a good faith effort to make a reasonable accommodation of those beliefs. No employer is allowed to demand that you check your core religious and moral convictions at the office door as a condition of obtaining or holding on to a job.
We’re happy to report that, shortly after our letter was sent, Bill’s employer informed him that the organization’s legal counsel had reviewed our letter and agreed with our conclusions. Bill is free to continue to care for the real needs of some of the neediest in our society without having to sign away his convictions about the sanctity of all human life.
The same love of Christ that compels people like Bill to care for the homeless and destitute also compels him to respect vulnerable unborn life. For now at least, we have a mosaic of laws that acknowledges his legal right to not have to lay aside one part of his Christian identity in order to live out another part of that same identity.
We’re pleased that here at the ACLJ, we continue to be able to be the voice for people like Bill and all those who – however unlawfully – find themselves faced with the excruciating dilemma of choosing between life and livelihood.
If you find yourself in this incredibly difficult situation, please contact us at ACLJ.org/HELP.
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