Pharmacists’ Religion Doesn’t Trump Public Interest, AU Tells Court Of Appeals

A Washington State Board of Pharmacy regulation that requires pharmacies to dispense all medications in a timely manner does not trample on religious freedom and should be upheld, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has told a federal appeals court.

Americans United attorneys filed a friend-of-the-court brief in a case pending before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. AU asserted that the regulation does not single out religious beliefs, noting that some pharmacists have refused to fill prescriptions for reasons that have nothing to do with religion.

Requiring pharmacies to fill prescriptions in a timely manner is a neutral regulation that does not target religious beliefs for negative treatment, AU says.

“Allowing pharmacists to put their religious beliefs between doctors and patients is a prescription for disaster,” said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn. “These regulations are simply designed to make sure that pharmacists do the job they are paid to do.”

The Washington pharmacy board acted after several incidents came to light in Washington and other states of pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control pills, emergency contraception and other medications.         

In its brief, AU notes that the state’s pharmacy regulations accommodate objecting pharmacists. A pharmacist can, for example, pass a prescription along to a colleague at the same store.

“Given the Board’s broad intent to preclude all personal objections from impeding access to medications, it is no surprise that the regulations do not target religious conduct for unfavorable treatment,” the AU brief asserts. “A pharmacy owner whose personal objection to dispensing a drug is based on his religion is treated no differently than a pharmacy owner whose personal objection to dispensing is motivated by secular concerns.”

Americans United intervened in the Stormans, Inc. v. Selecky case in conjunction with the American Humanist Association.