Timothy Kephart, Appeals court denies religious challenge on birth control in ACA, KVUE

A three-judge panel on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals said Monday that while religious groups may object to birth control, some rules in the Affordable Care Act surrounding birth control do not violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The case was a consolidation of several cases from institutions including East Texas Baptist University, Houston Baptist University, Westminster Theological Seminary, the University of Dallas, the Catholic Diocese of Beaumont, the Catholic Charities of Southeast Texas, Incorporated, and the Catholic Charities Diocese of Fort Worth, Incorporated.

All of the groups in the cases can be exempted from the federal rules requiring them to offer birth control coverage to employees. The process involves filling out a form or simply informing the government of their objection and saying who administers their employee health plan.

The federal government then works with the health plan, separate from the religious group or corporation, to make sure employees receive contraception insurance.

The groups that were part of the case said simply signing the form would violate their religious principles because it would still allow their employees to eventually access contraception. But, the three-judge panel on the Fifth Circuit said that wasn’t the case.

In the court’s decision, Judge Jerry Smith wrote, “Under RFRA, the ‘government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burdens results from a rule of general applicability’ unless ‘it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person – (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

Judge Smith continued, “The plaintiffs must show that the challenged regulations substantially burden their religious exercise, but they have not done so or, in University of Dallas, have not established a substantial likelihood of doing so. Because their claims fail on the merits, we need not consider the other requirements for an injunction.”

The judges noted that while the groups said several acts in the ACA offend their religious beliefs, “the acts they are required to perform do no including providing or facilitating access to contraceptives. Instead, the acts that violate their faith are those of third parties. Because RFRA confers no right to challenge the independent conduct of third parties, we join our sister circuits in concluding the plaintiffs have not shown a substantial burden on their religious exercise.”

The decision is in line with similar decisions from other appellate courts and unless a big difference in opinions develops in the lower courts, a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court may not come.


Full article: http://www.kvue.com/story/news/politics/2015/06/23/appeals-court-denies-religious-challenge-to-aca/29169673/