[JURIST] Five judges on the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit [official website] issued an opinion [order, PDF] stating that the circuit’s decision to uphold the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) [text] was “clearly and gravely wrong.” The federal government argues that if the religious non-profit groups file a document noting their objection to providing contraception, the government will exempt them and arrange contraceptive coverage on its own for the groups’ employees or students. The Little Sisters of the Poor [official website] are a religious group that claim filing the exemption document still facilitates access for contraceptives they oppose, and they argue their religious freedom is substantially burdened since they must either support access for contraceptives or be subject to a large financial penalty. The Little Sisters of the Poor lost their case before a three-judge panel in the Tenth Circuit and have appealed to the US Supreme Court [official website]. A judge on the Tenth Circuit called for a vote to re-hear the case en banc, but reconsideration was denied with no explanation. Five judges dissented from the denial, stating that the circuit’s decision “is contrary to all precedent concerning the free exercise of religion,” which suggests they believe the Supreme Court may overturn the panel’s decision. These dissenters believe the law is clear—a person’s free exercise is substantially burdened when a significant penalty is imposed for refusing to do something prohibited by the person’s sincere religious beliefs. The dissent’s main argument is that the majority purports to determine which religious beliefs are core and which are derivative, without regard to plaintiffs’ own beliefs on the matter.
In 2014 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) if the owners had a religious objection to one or more mandated birth control devices or method, in addition to the non-profit exception. Earlier this month the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled [JURIST report] that employers may refuse to provide contraceptive coverage for moral, as well as religious, reasons. In July the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that Washington state may force pharmacies to provide emergency contraceptives, such as Plan B. In May the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that the University of Notre Dame shall not, at the time being, be exempted from the federal government’s birth control mandate. In April Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito issued a temporary stay [JURIST report] 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 ACA. In November the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that religious non-profit groups’ rights were not violated when required to certify that they are opting out of the contraception mandate of the ACA.