The US Supreme Court Monday addressed Roman Catholic Diocese v. Emami in a brief order. The Court vacated the lower court’s judgment and ordered the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, Third Department, to reconsider the case in light of Fulton v. Philadelphia. Justices Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch noted that they would have heard the case in full.
In Fulton v. Philadelphia, the Court ruled that the city of Philadelphia could not refuse to contract with Catholic Social Services (CSS) on the sole ground that CSS did not certify same-sex couples as foster parents. Such a policy would violate the constitutional right to the free exercise of religion. Importantly, the Court evaluated Philadelphia’s regulation under strict scrutiny.
In Emami, religious groups led by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany challenged a New York regulation that required employer health insurance plans to cover abortions. The mandate included narrow religious exemptions covering only entities with the purpose of spreading religious values or that employ primarily people of the “same religious persuasion.”
The Third Department of New York’s Appellate Divison found the statute to be a “neutral and generally applicable law” and did not subject it to strict scrutiny. Consequently, the Third Department found that the regulation did not violate the constitution. The plaintiffs appealed.
On remand, the Third Department must reconsider Emami through the lens of Fulton and may reverse its now-vacated prior decision.