Federal appeals court rejects Notre Dame’s plea for exemption from birth control mandate

Federal appeals court rejects Notre Dame’s plea for exemption from birth control mandate

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] 2-1 Tuesday that the University of Notre Dame [official website] shall not, at the time being, be exempted from the federal government’s birth control mandate. Last June, in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores [opinion, PDF], the US Supreme Court ruled that for profit businesses that are “closely held” (i.e., owned by a small number of individuals) may be exempted [JURIST report] from the birth-control mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) [HHS materials] if the owners had a religious objection to one or more mandated birth control devices or method. Notre Dame has been arguing that taking even the small step required to take advantage of the exemption violates its rights because doing so would promote the mandate in a way that violates its religious stance against birth control. The Seventh Circuit previously ruled against Notre Dame [JURIST report] last year and reached the same conclusion on remand from the Supreme Court.

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]. The Department of Health and Humahn Services 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 [SCOTUSblog 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 (ACLU) [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.”