By Bob Allen, Baptist News Global
A federal appeals court ruled Feb. 11 that accommodations in the Affordable Care Act are adequate to protect the religious freedom rights of employers who do not qualify for exemptions allowed for certain religious organizations but object to contraception coverage in employee insurance plans on religious grounds.
The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals reversed injunctions by two lower courts that prevented the federal government from forcing Catholic nonprofit groups and Geneva College, a nonprofit institution of higher learning established by the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, to either provide insurance coverage for contraceptives in student and employee health care plans or certify that they object to the services on moral grounds.
Once they advise the government they will not pay for contraception, responsibility for coverage for those services shifts to a separate insurance issuer or a third-party administrator, without imposing any premium or fee on the group health plan or plan participants and beneficiaries.
The faith-based organizations contended that the requirement to register their intent not to participate in contraceptive coverage was not overly burdensome, but the end result, that their workers have access to forms of birth control that prevent pregnancy after conception has occurred, makes them complicit in the killing of a human life.
A three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, reasoning that in the act of specifically stating on a self-certification form that they object on religious grounds to providing such coverage, if anything, “is a declaration that they will not be complicit in providing coverage.”
The act of opting out does not facilitate the provision of contraceptive coverage by third parties, the court concluded, because the third parties providing coverage do so as a result of legal obligations imposed by the Affordable Care Act.
The court further rejected the argument that automatically exempting religious employers while requiring faith-based colleges and hospitals to self-report divides the Catholic Church by separating the “good works” or “faith in action” employers from the “house of worship employers” and entitling the burden-free exercise of religion by one group and not the other.
The appellate court responded that the distinction used by the Obama administration is the same one used by the Internal Revenue Service to allow religious employers like churches and their integrated auxiliaries to enjoy tax advantages over other entities without being thought to violate the Establishment Clause.
The appeals court decision agreed with earlier findings of the 6th Circuit, 7th Circuit and District of Columbia Circuit.
GuideStone Christian Resources, insurer for the Southern Baptist Convention, won an injunction preventing the government from enforcing the contraceptive mandate in December 2013. That ruling is under appeal in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
From the March 2015 Report from the Capital. Click here to read the next article.