The past year has marked a shift in religious liberty debates, one that previously centered on hiring rights but became focused on health care requirements. When President Obama first took office, faith-based groups were especially concerned that organizations that discriminate in hiring based on religious beliefs would become ineligible for federal funding. In 2011, the President indicated that he would not rescind an executive order on hiring rights. Just a week later, though, Health and Human Services ruled that religious groups other than churches must provide their employees contraception, triggering lawsuits and petitions. But contraception is not the only religious freedom issue faith-based groups are eyeing. The following timeline shows a number of actions the government took in the past year, setting precedents and priorities on various issues, including sexual orientation, health care, and hiring decisions.
Health care workers and the 'conscience clause'
February 18, 2011: The Obama administration revises "conscience clause" rules, maintaining the provision that allows workers to refrain from performing abortions but calling the Bush-enacted rule "unclear and potentially overbroad in scope." The earlier provision was interpreted as allowing such workers to opt out of a broad range of medical services, such as providing Plan B or other contraception.
Defense of Marriage Act
February 23, 2011: President Obama announced that the federal government would no longer defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. The move stemmed from the administration's decision that sexual orientation should be protected by the highest legal scrutiny afforded by the 14th Amendment. Neither the Supreme Court nor federal law ...1