BEAUMONT, Texas (CN) - The U.S. government cannot carry out a mandate that would force the Catholic Diocese of Beaumont and its charity to offer its employees contraceptives, a federal judge ruled.
On New Year's Eve, U.S. District Judge Ron Clark granted an injunction in favor of the diocese and the Catholic Charities of Southeast Texas.
The order, which Clark made permanent Friday, blocks the government from enforcing a provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that requires employers to include contraceptive services in their workers' health plans.
Several religious organizations have fought the provision with mixed results. Clark's decision falls in line with that of U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal who provided similar relief to two Baptist schools in the Southern District of Texas just days earlier.
The law exempts churches and makes an accommodation for nonprofit religious organizations, relieving them of the obligation to provide direct coverage for contraceptives.
Those nonprofit groups can sign a form that states their objection and passes the task of providing coverage to a third party administrator. But the Catholic entities have claimed in their complaint that doing so would still violate their rights.
"Requiring the head of a religious organization to sign a putatively correct statement of religious belief, which the government has defined to authorize a third party to take an action that is contrary to those religious beliefs, imposes a substantial burden on the free exercise of religion," Clark wrote. "That conclusion is not changed by the government's argument that, at present, it does not have the power to compel the third party to act. The court finds that plaintiffs have demonstrated that they have standing and have met their burden for issuance of a permanent injunction."