Friday, November 28, 2014

District Courts Reach Conflicting Results In Challenges To ACA Religious Non-Profit Contraceptive Accommodation

In Association of Christian Schools International v. Burwell, (D CO, Nov. 26, 2014), a Colorado federal district court upheld the Obama administration's most recent accommodation for religious non-profits that have conscience objections to the contraceptive coverage mandate under the Affordable Care Act.  The court rejected RFRA challenges by 5 non-profits, concluding that the accommodation "imposes a de minimis rather than a substantial burden on plaintiffs’ religious exercise."  The court explained:
All that plaintiffs are required to do under the new accommodation is provide a single sheet of paper that attests to their sincere religious objection and identifies their insurance provider or third-party administrator.... Plaintiffs claim that, by invoking the new accommodation via written notice, they would be “enabling the government’s scheme to facilitate free access to abortifacient services[.]”... But plaintiffs’ involvement with the administration of the mandate ends the moment they submit the written notice opting out of paying for contraceptive coverage. Plaintiffs’ objection is not to the notice they must submit to the government, but rather to the actions of third parties that will occur afterwards.
Plaintiffs in the case were educational institutions, a health care sharing organization and the legal advocacy organization Alliance Defending Freedom.

However, in Insight for Living Ministries v. Burwell, (ED TX, Nov 25, 2014), a Texas federal magistrate judge issued a preliminary injunction barring the federal government from enforcing the accommodation against a Christian radio broadcast ministry, saying:
The Court finds, and Defendants do not dispute, that IFLM holds sincere religious beliefs against providing certain drugs or devices which potentially could harm or kill a fertilized human egg. The accommodation compels or pressures IFLM to perform an act that it was not already performing. The nature of the accommodation provided by the Government would cause IFLM to facilitate, participate, and assist in, actions resulting in the provision of the abortionfacient drugs and renders IFLM complicit in providing its employees with what it contends are abortionfacient drugs....
Requiring IFLM to certify its objections to HHS (or to its TPA) requires IFLM to participate and act in the very arrangement to which it objects on the basis of its sincerely held religious beliefs. The Court therefore finds that IFLM is substantially burdened in its religious exercise.