July 1, 2014
Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., is a victory for religious freedom guaranteed under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”). Although the Hobby Lobby decision involved a for-profit corporation, the Court’s reasoning also supports the position of non-profit Catholic organizations who have filed their own challenges against the Mandate.
The federal government is defending the non-profit Mandate on the ground that it makes available a so-called “accommodation” to non-profit religious organizations who object to providing or paying for contraceptive coverage. Under the “accommodation,” non-profit religious objectors are required to sign and submit a “self-certification” that triggers an obligation for their insurance company or third-party administrator to provide contraceptive coverage to employees who are enrolled in their health insurance plans. As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has made clear, this “accommodation” is illusory. It fails to alleviate the moral problem inherent in the Mandate because it continues to require Catholic organizations to act in violation of their religious beliefs—namely, by (1) filing a legal document that triggers a third party’s obligation to provide contraceptive coverage; and (2) continuing to provide health insurance through a third party that is authorized to provide contraceptive coverage to employees enrolled in the plans.
The Catholic Diocese of Jackson, Catholic Charities, Catholic Schools and other diocesan entities have joined the Biloxi Diocese and others in requesting injunctive and other relief similar to the remedies provided to religious employers in the United States Courts of Appeals for the Seventh, Tenth, Eleventh,and D.C. Circuits. The lawsuit is presently pending in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. The government parties have been served with a copy of the Complaint and a Summons and a responsive pleading is due from the government attorneys August 4. Our lawsuit does not seek to deny access of the public to contraceptives, abortifacients or sterilization, but instead seeks relief from governmental regulations that require religious entities to violate their beliefs.
We are elated the United States Supreme Court recognized and affirmed the importance of religious freedom in the practice of business. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties have scored an important victory regarding religious conscience that we hope that it will likewise lead to a triumph for religious-based and nonprofit employers pursuing similar lawsuits.