Washington D.C., Jun 30, 2015 / 11:30 am
The U.S. Supreme Court has issued an order protecting a group of Pennsylvania religious institutions from being required by the federal contraception mandate to violate their faith.
"Doesn't our government have something better to do than fight charities serving the poor?" said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in a statement after the July 29 court order.
The Pennsylvania-based religious groups are among hundreds of plaintiffs challenging the federal HHS mandate, which requires employers to offer coverage of sterilization, contraception, and some drugs that can cause early abortions.
The organizations say they cannot provide the coverage, or otherwise facilitate it, without violating their religious beliefs.
With the stay from the Supreme Court, a lower court's previous ruling is held back. In February, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the religious service organizations. The plaintiffs applied for an interim stay on the ruling, which was granted by the Supreme Court in April.
Now, longer-term relief has been granted while the case moves forward in the courts, temporarily absolving the religious groups from having to provide contraceptives and related products for employees if they notify the Department of Health and Human Services of their exemption. The government must ensure that the employees receive coverage for the products and procedures in the meantime.
The high court has yet to say if it will review the merits of the case in its next term.
The grant comes only days after the Supreme Court ruled that states must grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples and recognize same-sex marriages conducted in other states. The 5-4 decision for Obergefell v. Hodges overturned other lower-court rulings that defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. With the ruling came a wave of concern over its implications on religious freedom.
Rassbach stressed that forcing religious employers to violate their deeply-held beliefs is unnecessary, adding that the legal precedent is on the side of the religious groups.
"The government has lots of ways to achieve its goals without penalizing religious groups who serve those in need," he said. "Every time a religious ministry has taken this issue to the Supreme Court, the government has lost and the religious plaintiffs have been granted relief."