Religious non-profits fighting one of Obamacare’s most intrusive mandates just received support from a critical constituency—207 members of Congress.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the senior Republican in the Senate and an original author of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, announced the submission of a bipartisan amicus brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the religious charities and other non-profits organizations seeking exemption from the Health and Human Services contraceptive coverage mandate, including Little Sisters of the Poor. Hatch was joined in the announcement by Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., and Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa.
Dozens of faith leaders from across the country have joined members of Congress in filing amicus briefs in Zubik v. Burwell, the Supreme Court case that will determine if the federal government can legally force the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious non-profits to purchase healthcare plans offering services that contradict their sincerely held religious beliefs. At issue is whether the Obama administration’s mandate requiring non-profits to provide contraceptives to their employees violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by forcing faith-based organizations to contravene their own religious teachings without demonstrating that this compulsion is the least restrictive means of advancing any compelling interest.
Hatch, a former Chairman and current senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, played a pivotal role in the passage of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“The Constitution and federal law set a high standard for government action that burdens religious practice,” Hatch said. “Forcing religious groups to facilitate birth control methods that violate their deeply held religious beliefs does not meet that standard. The government has no place telling individual Americans how they should practice their religion. I have filed this legal brief because I believe that religious liberty is a universal right that government must respect and accommodate. The Obama administration should be trying to honor and protect, rather than undermine, this fundamental freedom.”
The Affordable Care Act requires employers to provide insurance coverage for “preventive services.” HHS regulations define this as including all FDA-approved forms of birth control, in 16 that are contraceptive and four that cause abortions. Failure to comply results in fines of $100 per employee per day and dropping coverage altogether results in fines of $2,000 per employee per year. These are the same fines that the Supreme Court addressed in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell. One example: the Little Sisters of the Poor would face approximately $70 million in fines per year.
Exemptions include businesses with fewer than 50 employees; a narrow category of “religious employers” such as churches; and employers, such as Pepsi and Exxon, with existing plans when the ACA was enacted. These are exempt even if they do not object to the birth control mandate. Today, these exemptions cover employers of 44 million American workers.
Religious non-profits must comply with the birth control mandate but may do so through an administrative procedure “accommodation.” They must, however, still participate in the process resulting in coverage of birth control methods to which they object on religious grounds.
These seven consolidated cases are brought by religious non-profits including Christian colleges and organizations such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, which has provided care for the elderly since 1839. They claim the birth control mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires that government action burdening religious practice must be the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government purpose. This amicus brief is filed by 32 Senators and 174 House members in support of the petitioners in each of the seven cases.