Senate Supports Real Religious Freedom and Stops the Blunt Amendment
Yesterday morning the U.S. Senate voted 51-48 to table the Blunt “conscience” amendment (No. 1520) offered by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) to S. 1813, a transportation bill. The broad and dangerous measure would have threatened both the health and religious freedom of employees across the country, and we are extremely pleased the Senate has halted this effort.
Americans United sent a letter to Senators urging them to vote against the amendment, citing its astounding broadness. Far beyond exempting certain employers from providing contraceptive care, the proposal would have allowed any employer to deny coverage of any health services based on his or her “moral convictions.” This could include denial of coverage of services as diverse as end-of-life directives, mental health care, cancer screenings, and blood transfusions. Beyond harming religious freedom, the measure would clearly threaten public health as well.
Our letter additionally questioned the constitutionality of the amendment. “Although the government may offer religious accommodations even where it is not required to do so by the Constitution,” wrote Legislative Director Maggie Garrett, “its ability to provide religious accommodations is not unlimited.” Exemptions for religious organizations are appropriate in a number of circumstances, but not in cases in which they substantially burden third parties or override other legitimate government interests. The basic health of the public is obviously a vital government interest, and the defeat of this amendment today signifies the Senate’s respect for that principle.