A federal appeals court has denied a request by the University of Notre Dame to get out of having to comply with the pro-abortion HHS mandate that is a part of Obamacare and requires businesses and church groups to pay for abortion-causing drugs for their employees. Notre Dame won a victory at the Supreme Court earlier this year. After a lower court dismissed the lawsuit, in March the Supreme Court ordered the lower court to reconsider its ruling that denied a Catholic university the freedom to follow its faith. But, today, a panel of a federal appeals court ruled that Notre Dame must comply with the mandate.
SCOTUS blog has more on the decision the appeals court issued:
In a two-to-one ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit cleared the way for a trial of the university’s challenge but denied any immediate religious exemption.
This marked the first time that a federal appeals court had rejected a claim that the Supreme Court’s ruling last June in the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores should shield a non-profit religious organization from any role whatsoever in carrying out the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate. The issue seems certain to return to the Justices, probably next Term, although Notre Dame could try to get some temporary relief by returning quickly to the Supreme Court.
The university’s case has yet to go to trial in a federal district court, so the appeals court ruling was limited to denying preliminary protection for the university in the meantime. Still, it was a strong signal that the Roman Catholic institution may have a hard time, at least in lower courts, getting an exemption.
Although the government has made clear that non-profit groups need to take only a minimal step to take advantage of a religious exemption, Notre Dame — like some other non-profits — has been arguing that even taking such a step would mean that it had helped to implement the mandate in a way that violates its religious opposition to birth control.
Although the Supreme Court has now issued four temporary orders in non-profit cases, it has made clear that none of those was a decision on whether such institutions will ultimately be spared any role at all under the ACA mandate. This Term, the Court has sent two of those cases — Notre Dame’s was one of them — back to appeals courts to examine the impact, if any, that the Hobby Lobby ruling would have on the non-profit sector.
Circuit Judge Joel M. Flaum dissented, saying that Notre Dame had already made a case for an exemption, and so enforcement of the mandate should have been blocked.
The university has the legal option of asking for further review by the en banc Seventh Circuit or instead returning to the Supreme Court. The Justices have only about six more weeks remaining in the current Term, so it would be too late to get a formal appeal decided before the summer recess.
After the ruling, pro-life Indiana Senator Dan Coats criticized the decision.
“Requiring faith-based institutions to betray the fundamental tenets of their beliefs is unconstitutional and contrary to the cherished American tradition of religious liberty. Whether it is Notre Dame or many other faith-based institutions of higher learning, the thread of faith that runs through these schools is essential to their religious beliefs and successful administration of a faith in learning education. This same thread of faith is vital to food banks, homeless shelters and many important organizations addressing social needs in Indiana and across the country,” he said.
Coats continued: “Under our Constitution, all people of all faiths have the right to exercise their faith within the bounds of our justice system, even if their beliefs seem to some as misguided, flawed or flat out wrong. Faith-based institutions should not have to facilitate insurance coverage for products that are counter to their religious or moral beliefs.”
Previously, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Miller Jr. dismissed the suit, claiming that Notre Dame is sufficiently protected by a very narrowly-drawn religious exemption in the mandate — that pro-life legal groups say does not apply to every religious entity. Then, a three-judge panel from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision on a 2-1 vote.
In appealing that decision, the University of Notre Dame brought its request to the Supreme Court — saying the lower court decision made it the only nonprofit religious ministry in the nation without protection from the HHS mandate. The Supreme Court’s ruling today vacates the entire lower court decision forcing Notre Dame to comply and the 7th Circuit must now review its decision taking into consideration the entire Hobby Lobby case upholding that company’s right to not be forced into compliance.
The Obama administration has relied heavily on that lower court decision in other courts around the country, arguing that it should be able to impose similar burdens on religious ministries like the Little Sisters of the Poor.
After the Supreme Court ruling in the Notre Dame case, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which filed an amicus brief in the case, commented on the decision.
“This is a major blow to the federal government’s contraception mandate. For the past year, the Notre Dame decision has been the centerpiece of the government’s effort to force religious ministries to violate their beliefs or pay fines to the IRS.” said Mark Rienzi, Senior Counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which filed an amicus brief in the case. “As with the Supreme Court’s decisions in Little Sisters of the Poor and Hobby Lobby, this is a strong signal that the Supreme Court will ultimately reject the government’s narrow view of religious liberty. The government fought hard to prevent this GVR, but the Supreme Court rejected their arguments.”
He said University of Notre Dame’s pursuit of higher education is defined by its religious convictions. Its mission statement reads: “A Catholic university draws its basic inspiration from Jesus Christ as the source of wisdom and from the conviction that in him all things can be brought to their completion.” Its fight to stay true to its beliefs has brought it all the way to the Supreme Court – and back to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
According to Rienzi, over 750 plaintiffs in the other nonprofit cases have been granted protection from the unconstitutional mandate, which forces religious ministries to either violate their faith or pay massive IRS penalties.
A December 2013 Rasmussen Reports poll shows Americans disagree with forcing companies like Hobby Lobby to obey the mandate.
“Half of voters now oppose a government requirement that employers provide health insurance with free contraceptives for their female employees,” Rasmussen reports.
The poll found: “The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 38% of Likely U.S. Voters still believe businesses should be required by law to provide health insurance that covers all government-approved contraceptives for women without co-payments or other charges to the patient.’
“Fifty-one percent (51%) disagree and say employers should not be required to provide health insurance with this type of coverage. Eleven percent (11%) are not sure.”
Another recent poll found 59 percent of Americans disagree with the mandate.