Wednesday, June 18, 2014

District Court Upholds ACA Non-Profit Contraceptive Mandate Rules

In Eternal Word Television Network v. Burwell, (SD AL, June 17, 2014), an Alabama federal district court granted summary judgment to Department of Health and Human Services, rejecting a Catholic media network's challenges to the rules accommodating religious non-profits' objections to the Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage mandate.  Rejecting EWTN's "substantial burden" argument under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the court said in part:
Legally (if not morally) speaking, there is a world of difference between a law that compels EWTN to provide contraceptive coverage directly and one in which the government places that burden on someone else after EWTN opts out. Because EWTN’s only religious objection to the mandate hinges upon the effect it will have on other parties after EWTN signs Form 700 rather than anything inherent to the act of signing and delivering Form 700 itself, the court finds that the mandate does not impose a substantial burden on EWTN’s religious practice within the meaning of RFRA. As a result, EWTN’s RFRA claim fails as a matter of law.
The court also rejected EWTN's free exercise, establishment clause and compelled speech claims.  It concluded that the mandate is a neutral law of general applicability, and that "the accommodation’s certification requirement does not compel EWTN to express any opinions or beliefs that it does not hold."

In a press release reacting to the decision, EWTN said it would file an immediate appeal to the 11th Circuit.