Courtroom interior_newWritten by Don Byrd

A district court in Pennsylvania has dismissed a pair of lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate. This latest lawsuit comes not from a religious organization (like the Supreme Court will consider next year) or a corporation whose owners object to the mandate on religious grounds (which the Supreme Court upheld in the Hobby Lobby decision last year), but instead from a non-religious organization that argued it should be extended the same protections as religious organizations.

Here, the court rejected that argument and held that protecting religious freedom is a lawful basis for treating religious organizations differently.

Here is an excerpt from the court’s opinion:

Where objections to the Contraceptive Mandate are grounded in religious views, courts and the legislature alike have held that accommodation is warranted.

In support of this view, a vast history of legislative protections exists to safeguard religious freedom. Moral philosophies, however, have been historically unable to enjoy the same privileged state. Though large, organized secular belief systems have been gaining protected treatment as well, the majority of precedent continues to support preferential treatment for religion under the law, without explicitly extending that treatment to include secular beliefs. 

In Corporation of Presiding Bishop of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints v. Amos . . . plaintiffs argued that the government impermissibly distinguished between religious and secular employers. The Court found there, as we do now, that the classification was “rationally related to the legitimate purpose of alleviating significant interference with the ability of religious organizations to define and carry out their religious missions.” The Court further emphasized that, to be enforceable under the law, “[r]eligious accommodations . . . need not ‘come packaged with benefits to secular entities.”

You can read previous posts related to contraceptive mandate challenges here.