When it comes to the Obama Administration’s contraception mandate, might the New York-based Priests for Life become the nonprofit equivalent of Hobby Lobby?
The group announced Monday that the Supreme Court will meet Sept. 28 to decide whether or not to take up its appeal of a lower court’s decision that ruled the administration’s opt-out procedure does not infringe on its religious liberty.
The Priests for Life case, which was consolidated with a similar case brought by the Archdiocese of Washington, is one of seven seeking an appeal before the Supreme Court.
Under the Affordable Care Act, businesses and organizations that employ more than 50 people must offer insurance plans that cover the cost of FDA-approved contraception.
The Supreme Court ruled in June 2014 that some for-profit businesses could be exempt from the mandate based on religious objections, in what’s become known as the Hobby Lobby Case.
Houses of worship – churches, temples, mosques and the like – were automatically exempted from the mandate.
But that left religious-based nonprofits – think religious orders, charities, and religiously-affiliated schools and universities – in limbo.
So the Obama Administration announced a compromise, which stands as the current policy, in which religious employers notify the government of their objection. The government then works with insurance companies to provide contraception coverage.
But some religious nonprofits objected to the compromise, arguing that they would be complicit in providing contraception because the vehicle for delivering the contraception coverage remain the insurance plans they pay for. Even if they aren’t funding the contraception coverage, they argue, they are complicit in providing coverage they find objectionable by virtue of even notifying the government.
That led to a number of lawsuits filed in federal courts around the country by religious nonprofits such as the Little Sisters of the Poor in Colorado and Wheaton College in Illinois. But federal appeals courts in Chicago, Cincinnati, Denver, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC all have ruled that the act of signing away contraception coverage to a third party does not burden their freedom of religion.
However, more than 20 religious nonprofits, including Priests for Life and the Archdiocese of Washington, have been granted emergency injunctions against complying with the mandate.
Daniel Blomberg, an attorney for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a DC-based law firm representing the Little Sisters of the Poor in a case similar to the Priests for Life case, said that in general, federal courts and even the Supreme Court have been on the side of religious nonprofits more often than not, and that he hopes a final ruling could bring closure.
If the Supreme Court does take up any of the cases, there could be wide-reaching consequences for religiously-affiliated nonprofits throughout the country, including those still winding their way through federal courts.
An attorney representing Priests for Life, Robert J. Muise, told Crux that the issue comes down to whether or not the government has a right to define an individual’s religious beliefs.
“I hope the Supreme Court will uphold the right to religious freedom,” he said. “It’s not up for the government to decide how people understand their own religious beliefs. It’s not for the government to decide Catholic Church teaching. That is beyond its competency. At the end of the day, we hope the Court will uphold religious freedom.”