February 4, 2012

Conservative religious groups, and in particular the Catholic Church, are outraged over President Obama’s decision to require secular institutions run by religious groups to abide by employment laws. In his Jan. 31 column, “Catholics betrayed,” Michael Gerson elaborated on the claim by such groups that this decision radically curtails the freedom of Catholics to practice their religion because it forces them to fund health-care practices that the church deems unacceptable, such as contraception and abortion. Yet the law in question does not force any employee to use such services; it requires only that employer-provided health-care plans not be subject to the approval of the church hierarchy.

Mr. Gerson’s claim amounted to an assertion that the free exercise of religion necessarily includes the freedom to impose religious beliefs on nonbelievers.

Karen S. Smith, Kensington

Michael Gerson imputed nefarious motives to President Obama for his administration’s requirement that contraception be made more affordable and available for American workers. He lamented the decision’s effects on a bishop, a priest and the vice president. Tellingly missing from this analysis: the profound and beneficial effects on the millions of American women and their families, Catholic and non-Catholic, Democrat, Republican and independent, whose health-care decisions are too often thwarted by a small, powerful cadre of men who have zero credibility with many lay Catholics when it comes to contraception. Churches across the country are filled with good Catholics, the majority of whom use contraception and have no objection to it.

Jon O’Brien, Washington

The writer is president of Catholics for Choice.