A federal appeals court Wednesday shot down an effort by the University of Notre Dame to have itself exempted from the Obamacare contraception mandate.
In a 2-1 ruling, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that while Notre Dame will be allowed to challenge the contraception mandate, it will not be allowed a temporary exemption while its case is litigated. While the ruling isn’t a final one, though, it is also a bad sign, indicating that the court views the school’s challenge as less likely to succeed.
After the passage of Obamacare in 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) promulgated new regulations requiring all employers providing health insurance to also provide coverage for birth control. Exemptions were granted for religious bodies (such as churches), but not for religiously-affiliated entities, such as Catholic universities. Later, after encountering fierce opposition, the Obama administration crafted a compromise that allows non-profits to request an exemption by submitting a form to HHS.
Notre Dame, however, argues that even filing such a request makes it “complicit” in the provision of birth control, in violation of its Catholic beliefs, because filing that request will put in motion a government provision that will require the school’s insurers to provide employees birth control for free. The school sued.
The college initially ran into obstacles, but last year its efforts received a boost from the Supreme Court case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which held that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protected the stated religious beliefs of closely-held corporations. In March, the Supreme Court instructed a lower court to revisit Notre Dame’s case in light of the new precedent. The Seventh Circuit, however, has held firm.
The Seventh Circuit’s judges didn’t buy the school’s argument. Since Notre Dame isn’t being made to the pay for the birth control, they said, it isn’t serving as a “conduit” and so its claim of complicity cannot stand.
Republican Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana released a statement bashing the ruling.
“Requiring faith-based institutions to betray the fundamental tenets of their beliefs is unconstitutional and contrary to the cherished American tradition of religious liberty,” said Coats. “Whether it is Notre Dame or many other faith-based institutions of higher learning, the thread of faith that runs through these schools is essential to their religious beliefs and successful administration of a faith in learning education. This same thread of faith is vital to food banks, homeless shelters and many important organizations addressing social needs in Indiana and across the country.”
Now, Notre Dame can appeal once again to the Supreme Court, or it could request an en banc review by the entire Seventh Circuit.
Notre Dame was the first school President Barack Obama served as a commencement speaker at after he became president. The move outraged many of its Catholic alumni, but doesn’t appear to have bought it any favors from the Obama Administration.
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