A federal judge ruled in favor of the Catholic Benefits Association last week, issuing a permanent injunction and declaratory relief against the Department of Health and Human Services’ contraception mandate.This means that organizations belonging to the CBA do not have to provide coverage of drugs, the use of which they believe to be immoral, as dictated by the mandate.
The CBA represents more than 1,000 Catholic employers, all of whom seek to provide health insurance for their employees without violating their religious beliefs. In 2014, the CBA filed two federal lawsuits against the HHS mandate which required all insurance plans to cover contraception, sterilization procedures, and emergency contraception. More than 88,000 people work for companies that are part of the CBA.
Companies that are not part of the CBA are still subject to the mandate, which remains in place as-is. The Catholic Church teaches that contraception and direct sterilization are “morally unacceptable” means of regulating birth.
The CBA argued that this mandate, which was not part of the Affordable Care Act, was forcing Catholic employers to violate their deeply-held religious beliefs. U.S. District Court Judge David Russell agreed, and issued the permanent decision. This injunction will prevent the federal government from enforcing the mandate, and Russell also ruled that this mandate had been in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by attempting to force employers to provide contraception and sterilization, in violation of their sincerely held religious beliefs.
Failure to comply with the mandate meant that businesses were subject to fines. The companies that make up the CBA had collectively accrued $6.9 billion in fines, which were eliminated with the ruling.
In a statement provided to CNA, CBA CEO Douglas G. Wilson, Jr. said the association was “most grateful” by the decision, and he urged other Catholic employers who are struggling with complying with the mandate to join the CBA. Wilson said that this ruling was a win for religious freedom.
“The ruling directly protects all current and future CBA members,” said Wilson, adding that he was grateful that the CBA is “now in a position to protect even more Catholic ministries and businesses.”
What’s more, said Wilson, is that Russell’s ruling is an “important judicial validation of religious liberty” in the context of the First Amendment and of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Wilson believes that this will pave the way for other religious groups to protect themselves against the mandate.
“His ruling creates a precedent which, we are sure, will be cited by religious faiths across America in their own resistance to these immoral intrusions.”
Since the HHS mandate was announced in 2012, several groups have filed suit against the government in opposition to its demands. The Supreme Court ruled in 2014 in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. that closely-held corporations with religious employers opposed to the mandate cannot be forced to comply with it. Hobby Lobby is a craft store owned by Christians who were opposed to certain drugs included in the mandate.
The Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic women religious who operate nursing homes for the elderly poor, also filed against the mandate. The Little Sisters of the Poor were granted an exemption from the mandate, but were back in court in November 2017 to argue their case once again.