Court rules against Little Sisters’ plea to avoid way to bypass mandate

By Catholic News Service

DENVER (CNS) — The Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious entities are not substantially burdened by procedures set out by the federal government by which they can avoid a requirement to provide contraceptive coverage in health insurance, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled July 14.

In a lengthy opinion that considered arguments raised by the organizations under First Amendment religious rights protections and under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the court said the groups are not substantially burdened by filing out a form or notifying Health and Human Services via email or a letter that because of their religious-based objections to the mandated coverage, they will not provide it.

The ruling is the latest in a string of circuit court decisions finding that nonprofit religious institutions may not be protected from the procedures set out by HHS from complying with what is known as a mandate to provide coverage for a variety of types of contraceptives in employee health insurance.

"The departments have made opting out of the mandate at least as easy as obtaining a parade permit, filing a simple tax form, or registering to vote — in other words, a routine, brief administrative task," wrote Judge Scott M. Matheson Jr.

Under the Affordable Care Act, all health insurance plans are required to provide contraceptive coverage. Churches themselves with a moral objection to contraceptives and other institutions that primarily employ and serve members of the churches are exempt. Nonprofit entities such as church-run colleges and social service agencies are not, but HHS created what is known as an "accommodation" under which such organizations may file a particular form or notify HHS that they will not participate for religious reasons. The contraceptive coverage is then provided to those organizations’ employees, but through third parties, and with no cost or further involvement to the employer. Entities that refuse to comply with the mandate are subject to significant fines.

The organizations that sued say that the acts of filling out the form or notifying HHS are a substantial burden on their religious rights because the steps implicate them in the ultimate provision of contraceptives. The court disagreed.


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