Hobby Lobby Ruling May Inspire Spate of Similar Lawsuits

Friday, 04 Jul 2014 02:35 PM

By Drew MacKenzie

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The Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling is set to spark a round of copycat lawsuits from a group of religious schools and institutions, Politico reports.

Catholic schools and other non-profit groups are expected to apply to the nation's highest court to allow them to opt out of the contraceptive coverage to female employees under the Obamacare mandate.

The Supreme Court had ruled that only closely-held private companies could be exempt for religious reasons from the healthcare law's controversial birth control regulation.

But Catholic schools and religious groups, who have had their cases struck down in lower courts, are planning to follow Hobby Lobby's lead and have their cases heard in the Supreme Court.

Politico noted that that religious non-profits will have to find an alternative argument because the administration had made a special accommodation in the Obamacare mandate for these groups not to have to provide contraception directly.

The Catholic Diocese of Nashville and the Michigan Catholic Conference lost their cases in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit last month, and it is believed that they will now ask the Supreme Court to hear their petitions.

After the University of Notre Dame's cases was rejected by the 7th Circuit earlier this year, the school is reluctantly providing contraceptive coverage and is now weighing up a possible appeal, Politico said.

Similar cases are being held in the 3rd, 5th and 10th Circuit courts while the D.C. Court of Appeals is on the verge of making a decision on a suit brought by the Catholic Church in Washington.

The non-profit groups claim that their religious beliefs would be violated if they are forced to use the government's accommodation that allows employees to receive contraceptive coverage.

In the Hobby Lobby majority decision, Justice Samuel Alito noted that the company's employees could still be able to obtain the birth control coverage through an expansion of the Obamacare accommodation to the religious-affiliated nonprofits, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The accommodation allows health insurance companies to provide the coverage without the employer being involved in the process. Under the accommodation, eligible non-profits must provide a "self-certification", authorizing insurance companies to provide the coverage directly to a female employee.

The government's accommodation is “less restrictive than requiring employers to fund contraceptive methods that violate their religious beliefs," Alito wrote, The Tribune reports.

If an appellate court rules against the government on the accommodation, it would create conflicting opinions and give the Supreme Court another reason to look at the issue again, Politico said. If that happens, the court would likely hear oral arguments in the fall.

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