Courtroom interior_newWritten by Don Byrd

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals last week issued an opinion agreeing with earlier decisions of the 6th, 7th and D.C. Circuits: accommodation rules allowing religious organizations to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage requirement do not violate their religious freedom rights under RFRA. The Court rejected arguments by religious organization plaintiffs that the form certifying its exemption is a substantial burden on religious exercise.

While the plaintiffs argued the act “triggered” subsequent access to contraception they oppose on religious grounds, the court disagreed:

The appellees urge that a burden exists here because the submission of the self-certification form triggers, facilitates, and makes them complicit in the provision of objected-to services. But after testing that assertion, we cannot agree that the submission of the self-certification form has the effect the appellees claim. First, the self-certification form does not trigger or facilitate the provision of contraceptive coverage because coverage is mandated to be otherwise provided by federal law. Federal law, rather than any involvement by the appellees in filling out or submitting the self-certification form, creates the obligation of the insurance issuers and third-party administrators to provide coverage for contraceptive services.

If the form submission was found to be a substantial burden on the religious exercise of organizations like the plaintiffs in this case, the requirement would be found unlawful under RFRA, unless the government can demonstrate it is necessary to further a compelling state interest. So far, the four appeals courts to rule on the issue have all agreed that it does not amount to a substantial burden. Other cases are still pending across the country.

Stay tuned.