Most D.C. Groups Lose Challenge to Obamacare | Courthouse News Service
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Most D.C. Groups Lose Challenge to Obamacare

(CN) - The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington lost its challenge to the Obamacare contraception mandate scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2014, but Thomas Aquinas College won an injunction.

The archdiocese, along with nine related Catholic organizations, claimed in D.C. federal court that the contraceptive mandate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act violates their First Amendment right to free exercise of religion because it requires them "to provide, pay for, and/or facilitate access to abortion-inducing products, contraception, sterilization procedures, and related counseling, in a manner that is directly contrary to their religious beliefs."

Under the Affordable Care Act, religious employers such as plaintiffs must certify with their insurers that they have a religious objection to paying for contraceptive services.

The insurer must then itself bear the cost of providing these services to the employees, so that the employees still have access to contraceptive care, but their employer does not directly pay for it.

"Plaintiffs contend that the act of self-certifying - an act that consists of nothing more than plaintiffs' reiteration of their already public objection to participation in the requirements of the mandate - is a substantial burden on the exercise of their religion in and of itself," U.S. District Judge Amy Jackson said. "But that argument so blurs the demarcation between what RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] prohibits - that is, governmental pressure to modify one's own behavior in a way that would violate one's own beliefs - and what would be an impermissible effort to require others to conduct their affairs in conformance with plaintiffs' beliefs, that it obscures the distinction entirely."

Of all plaintiffs, only Thomas Aquinas College does not offer employees health insurance through a plan offered by the church.

Rather, the college is self-insured, which separates its situation from that of the other Catholic organizations.

Jackson said in no uncertain terms that "the contraceptive coverage law in neutral and generally applicable to all employers, and it does not target religion."

But the mandate would require Thomas Aquinas College to take action if its current third-party administrator refused to shoulder the cost of contraceptive coverage.

"In the court's view, the obligation to take affirmative steps to identify and contract with a willing third-party administrator if the existing third-party administrator declines forces the religious organization to do something to accomplish an end that is inimical to its beliefs," she wrote (italics in original). "This involves the organization in facilitating access to contraceptive services, which the college has averred it cannot do, and it entails the critical element of modifying one's behavior."

Since that would require the college to take steps directly in conflict with the tenets of its faith, the defendants are therefore "enjoined from enforcing the mandate against Thomas Aquinas College," Jackson wrote.

Other plaintiffs that lost their challenge to the contraception mandate include the Consortium of Catholic Academies of the Archdiocese of Washington Inc., Archbishop Carroll High School Inc., Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School of the Archdiocese of Washington Inc., Mary of Nazareth Roman Catholic Elementary School Inc., Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington Inc., Victory Housing Inc., the Catholic Information Center Inc., and Catholic University of America.

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