Re "The rights of the religious," Editorial, Feb. 4

The Times rightly defends but wrongly interprets a federal law that forbids the government from imposing "substantial burdens" on the exercise of religious convictions and requires federal officials to pursue the "least restrictive means" of achieving any "compelling interest."

The Times neglects 1st Amendment principles in defending the administration's attempts to force employers with conscientious objections to bow to the government's edict to have employee insurance policies that provide controversial contraceptives.

The government easily could avoid violating religious freedom by directly supplying poor women with contraceptives, just as it does worldwide.

Just as the 1st Amendment protects the free speech of citizens and corporations such as The Times, it also protects the free exercise of religion by citizens and employers. When the administration attempts to force even elderly nuns to violate their religious convictions, clearly the government has trampled on sacred 1st Amendment ground.

Jonathan Imbody

Washington

The writer is vice president for government relations at the Christian Medical Assn.

I am counsel of record on a Supreme Court brief representing atheist and secular organizations in the contraceptive mandate case.

We argue that religious employers should have to obey laws that apply to everyone else, such as the requirement that all for-profit employers provide their workers with access to health insurance that permits employees to make their own decisions regarding contraception.

I appreciate that The Times does not want these employers to prevail. However, in still defending the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, you fail to recognize the harm done to the quest for full equality, for everyone, if only religious believers are allowed to avoid complying with otherwise universally enforceable laws.

In 1997, then-Supreme Court Justice Paul Stevens correctly saw that this law was unconstitutional because it allows religious adherents to challenge compliance with generally applicable laws in ways that are not equally available to agnostics and atheists.

Edward Tabash

Beverly Hills

ALSO:

Letters: Give cyclists a break

Letters: Mostly applause for CVS' move

Letters: These cops should have held their fire