[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Friday ruled [opinion, PDF] that religious non-profit groups’ rights were not violated when required to certify that they are opting out of the contraception mandate [JURIST backgrounder], a provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) [text, PDF]. Priests for Life and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington [advocacy websites] challenged new rules [text, PDF] proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) [official website] in August that attempt to give religious non-profit groups an exemption from the health care law’s mandate. Under the new rules, in addition to notifying HHS of an organization’s claiming of religious exemption, organizations are also required to tell the government about their health coverage plans for their employees and provide it with contact information for the insurer, thus allowing the department to arrange for free contraceptive coverage for female employees. The groups argued [Reuters report] that, in requiring this certification process, the government was forcing them to tacitly authorize contraceptive coverage for its employees in violation of their religious beliefs. The DC Circuit ruled that the opt-out requirements did not impose a substantial burden on the groups’ religious exercise, and even if it did, that the opt-out process was the least restrictive means to serve the compelling governmental interest of providing adequate women’s health coverage.
The Supreme Court’s rulings on the contraceptive mandate and the mandate itself have generated controversy [JURIST op-ed]. HHS issued proposed rules [JURIST report] in August in response to the Supreme Court’s rulings in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell [SCOTUS backgrounders], which held that “closely held” corporations cannot be required to provide contraceptive coverage to their female workers if the corporation’s owners have religious objections. Louise Melling, deputy legal directer of the American Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website] stated of the court’s ruling in Hobby Lobby [press release] that “[r]eligious freedom is a fundamental right, but that freedom does not include the right to impose beliefs on others. In its ruling today, the Court simply got it wrong.” Barbara Green, one of the founders of Hobby Lobby, said [press release] that “[o]ur family is overjoyed by the Supreme Court’s decision. Today the nation’s highest court has re-affirmed the vital importance of religious liberty as one of our country’s founding principles. The Court’s decision is a victory, not just for our family business, but for all who seek to live out their faith. We are grateful to God and to those who have supported us on this difficult journey.”