White HouseWritten by Don Byrd

According to final rules issued Friday, current procedures will remain in place allowing religious non-profits to opt-out of the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage mandate by providing written notice to HHS of a religious objection. Insurance providers will provide such coverage directly to employers of organizations that opt out.

The notice process has been the subject of extensive litigation across the country, brought by organizations that argue the rule unlawfully forces them to participate in a chain of events leading to the distribution of contraception forbidden by their religious beliefs.

Thus far, however, the Courts of Appeal to hear this argument have rejected it. Providing written notice, courts have determined, does not constitute a substantial burden on religious exercise. Beyond that, the rulings emphasize, contraception is made available and paid for by others under the plan, not the objecting religious organizations.

The rules respond to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hobby Lobby by allowing closely-held companies (those 50%+ owned by 5 or fewer individuals or a family) to similarly opt-out if the governing body or rules of corporate governance establish a religious objection.

You can read the final rules (pdf) here. The section dealing with religious accommodations begins on page 19. These accommodation policies continue to be challenged in court. Will it be the next religious liberty question taken up by the Supreme Court? Stay tuned.