First Amendment

Archdiocese wins injunction blocking contraception coverage requirement

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The Archdiocese of New York prevailed in its bid to block a provision of the Affordable Care Act requiring its nonprofit affiliates to pay for employees’ contraception.

The New York Times reported that in an opinion handed down Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Brian Cogan issued a permanent injunction barring the federal government from imposing the contraception mandate on the archdiocese’s affiliated nonprofit organizations. Unlike the church, the affiliates—which include Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx, Monsignor Farrell High School in Staten Island, Catholic Health Care System and Catholic Health Services of Long Island—were not exempt from the mandate. Instead, the government had designated them as “eligible organizations,” which meant that they had to either provide contraceptive services, authorize a third-party to pay for it, or pay a fine. Represented by attorneys at Jones Day, the archdiocese and its affiliates had brought suit in May 2012, arguing that merely authorizing others to provide contraceptive care was tantamount to an endorsement of such services and was a core violation of their religious beliefs.

In his opinion (PDF), Cogan agreed with the archdiocese and its affiliates and found that the contraception mandate violated their religious beliefs. Cogan turned aside the government’s assertion that requiring the nonprofits to fill out a form to determine whether it would comply with the mandate was a minor, trivial matter that did not significantly infringe on their fundamental religious tenets. Instead, Cogan held that courts were not in the business of determining what was a serious infringement and what was not. Cogan also pointed out that the government had granted so many exceptions already, that there was no compelling reason why it couldn’t grant one here.

“The government could provide the contraceptive services or insurance coverage directly to plaintiffs’ employees, or work with third parties—be it insurers, health care providers, drug manufacturers, or non-profits—to do so without requiring plaintiffs’ active participation,” Cogan wrote. “It could also provide tax incentives to consumers or producers of contraceptive products. Many of these options have been recognized as feasible alternatives by other courts.”

In a statement, the Archdiocese of New York said that it “welcomes and applauds Judge Brian Cogan’s thoughtful decision and order. … The court has correctly cut through the artificial construct which essentially made faith-based organizations other than churches and other houses of worship second-class citizens with second-class First Amendment protections,” archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling said. “Religious freedom is our ‘First Freedom,’ guaranteed in the Constitution of the United States.”

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