Federal judge rules in favor of Catholic employers in contraceptive mandate case

(Pixabay/Anqa)A judge ruled in favor of Catholic employers who object to a mandate requiring them to provide contraceptive coverage on their employees' health insurance.

Employers affiliated with the Catholic Benefits Association (CBA) have claimed victory in court after a federal judge issued a permanent injunction and declaratory relief against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate that requires business owners to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives.

The Catholic Benefits Association (CBA), which represents over 1,000 employers, filed two federal lawsuits against the HHS mandate in 2014, arguing that it forces religious employers to violate their consciences.

Last week, U.S. District Judge David Russell issued the permanent injunction against the mandate, preventing the federal government from enforcing it against members of CBA. The judge also contended that HHS regulation is in breach of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because it forces religious employers to act contrary their beliefs by requiring them to provide coverage for contraceptives.

The mandate, however, remains in place, and it still applies to companies that are not part of the CBA.

Companies affiliated with the CBA have amassed a total of $6.9 billion in fines for refusing to comply with the mandate, but the huge penalty was eliminated with Russel's ruling.

"This is the tremendous win," CBA CEO Douglas G. Wilson said in a March 28 statement, according to Crux.

"The first freedom in the Bill of Rights is the First Amendment right to freedom of religion. The court has rightly ruled that employers should not be forced to violate their beliefs and cover morally problematic elective and often low-cost choices that individuals may wish to make," he added.

Wilson expressed his belief that the ruling would make it easier for other religious organizations to fight the mandate.

"His ruling creates a precedent which, we are sure, will be cited by religious faiths across America in their own resistance to these immoral intrusions," he said, according to Catholic News Agency.

Several organizations and companies have successfully challenged the HHS mandate in court. In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby and other corporations owned by religious employers cannot be required to comply with the mandate.

The Catholic religious order Little Sisters of the Poor also filed suit against the mandate and was granted an exemption. However, the group, which runs nursing homes for the elderly poor, had to go back to court in November 2017 after two states challenged the exemption.

In October, the Trump administration issued a directive that expanded the exemption to include religious employers who object to the contraceptive mandate based on religious grounds. Exemptions based on moral objections are also granted to some entities like secular crisis pregnancy centers, but it does not apply to publicly-traded for-profit companies.

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