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Nathan Diament of the Orthodox Union explained how the encroachment of the state on religious territory inspired the OU to side with the opposition in the contraception debate.As the controversy regarding contraception coverage slowly permeated American society during the last couple of months, political commentators expected to see Jewish leaders and their respective constituents on the sidelines. Catholics led the opposition to the mandate that would have them offer employees contraception coverage in affiliated institutions, and their stringent views on the usage of birth control was not universally shared by members of differing faiths, especially Jews. Nevertheless, according to an article recently published by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Jewish organizations played a pivotal role in the contraception debate and were one of the major constituencies who impacted its outcome.

However, according to the news report, Jewish organizations did not collectively align themselves on one side of the aisle. Some organizations, particularly those of a more conservative bent, weighed in on the side of the disenchanted Catholics, while others encouraged the government to push for the latest mandate. A number of Orthodox organizations, including the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel of North America, leaned right. Both groups cited the broader implications of the governmental ruling as the primary reason for their involvement in the dispute, and reinforced this sentiment in a series of public statements.

“We signed on with Catholic groups and other Christian groups expressing concern, and there were conversations over the ensuing time,” explained Nathan Diament, the executive director of the Orthodox Union. “Our concerns are less contraception than that some organizations are deserving of protection [from government mandates] and others are not.”

Abba Cohen of Agudath Israel of North America shed light on Diament’s statement. “Fundamentally, we believe that constitutional rights of free exercise [of religion] must be honored,” he said. “It’s not just birth control and abortion; it’s the larger issue of health and medical ethical issues.”

Ultimately, President Obama modified the initial proposal—which would effectively coerce certain religiously affiliated institutions to offer services that run contrary to their doctrine—to ensure religious liberties were protected. All employees would be granted access to contraception, the president explained, and employers whose religious views clashed with the policy would be exempted from providing such services. In such instances, the insurers would be directly responsible for the insured. This emendation attracted a more sizable following than the original offering, but failed to appease a number of Catholics and others who held posts at self-insured establishments. Also, some saw the correction as simply a way of sidestepping the technical problem but indisputably running contrary to the moral and religious spirit at the heart of the Catholic and religiously-minded opposition.

After hearing of the altered proposal, Cohen of Agudath Israel further emphasized that the ultimate arbiter of the relevant question should be none other than the Catholic constituency itself. “Whether or not the White House’s new ‘compromise’ proposal adequately addresses the religious freedom concerns raised by the Catholic Church is for the Catholic Church to say, not us – and , frankly, not the White House, either,” he declared in a statement. “The important points here are that no religiously sponsored entity, and no religiously motivated individual, should be forced by government to violate its or his sincerely held religious principles; and that the determination of religious propriety must be left to the religious entity or individual, not to the government.”