On March 9, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari at the request of the University of Notre Dame on another matter arising from the Affordable Care Act, and remanded the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, with instructions to reconsider its ruling in light of the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.
The Hobby Lobby case established the principle that where sincerely held religious beliefs of for-profit corporations which were substantially burdened by a provision of the Affordable Care Act, for which there was a less restrictive alternative, such provisions could be disallowed, even in the face of a compelling government interest. Just a few days later, the Supreme Court issued an order at the request of Wheaton College, a religious, not-for-profit liberal arts college, which limited the amount of paperwork Wheaton could be made to fill out in order to opt out of the requirement that it pay for mandatory contraceptive coverage for its employees.
University of Notre Dame v. Burwell involves the federal government’s offer of so-called “accommodations” allowing objecting non-profit employers to shift the obligation to paying for contraception coverage to third parties such as insurers. Notre Dame contended that the “accommodation” violated its religious convictions by still sponsoring contraception coverage, albeit through a third party. The Seventh Circuit, in a decision that predated Hobby Lobby had denied Notre Dame’s effort to have its employees excluded from the mandatory contraception coverage.
Clearly, the Hobby Lobby decision is alive and well, and the courts have yet to fully sort out its repercussions. Stay tuned for further updates.