[JURIST] US Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito [official profile] issued a temporary stay on Wednesday preventing the federal government from requiring the Roman Catholic dioceses and its affiliates in Pittsburgh and Erie, Pennsylvania to comply with the birth control mandates of the Affordable Care Act [text]. The religious groups petitioned the US Supreme Court for a stay after the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] in February ruled [opinion, pdf] that the federal government could require the Western Pennsylvania dioceses, its faith-based non-profits, and a small Catholic college to provide health insurance that would provide contraception coverage to its employees, or else to require them to sign a statement explicitly opting out. However, the opt-out option would allow an employee to have contraception coverage through their insurers anyway. The Pennsylvania religious groups argued that, even with the opt-out option, the law substantially burdens their religious freedoms by making the diocese complicit in the provision of artificial contraceptives. The order from the US Supreme Court calls for a government response by Monday.
The Supreme Court’s rulings on the contraceptive mandate and the mandate itself have generated controversy [JURIST op-ed]. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in November ruled that religious non-profit groups’ rights were not violated [JURIST report] when required to certify that they are opting out of the contraception mandate [JURIST backgrounder]. 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.”