In a move that is considered to be a win for religious employers in the U.S., the Supreme Court has decided not to rule on the government’s controversial birth control mandate as it pertains to religious institutions and has sent the dispute back to the lower courts for resolution.
The case, which involves non-profit religious organizations such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, Priests for Life, the Archdiocese of Washington DC and others, went to court to protest rules issued by the federal government which required them to provide medical coverage for services that violate their religious freedom.
Following oral arguments in March, the Court requested supplemental briefing from both the non-profits and the employers addressing whether this coverage could be provided to employees, through the non-profit’s insurance company, without any involvement by the religious institution.
“Both petitioners and the Government now confirm that such an option is feasible,” the Court states in today’s unanimous ruling. “Petitioners have clarified that their religious exercise is not infringed where they ‘need to do nothing more than contract for a plan that does not include coverage for some or all forms of contraception,’ even if their employees receive cost-free contraceptive coverage from the same insurance company.”
In addition, “the Government has confirmed that the challenged procedures ‘for employers with insured plans could be modified to operate in the manner posited in the Court’s order while still ensuring that the affected women receive contraceptive coverage seamlessly, together with the rest of their health coverage’.”
Therefore, in light of these agreements, the Supreme Court has opted to remand the case back to the respective Appeals Courts for final resolution.
“Because of the additional clarification and refinement in the positions of the parties, the Court believes that both sides of the dispute should be given an opportunity to arrive at a solution that accommodates the non-profits’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women receive ‘full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage’.”
In other words, a unanimous Supreme Court is asking the lower courts to provide the requested accommodation to religious employers for its plan to provide free coverage for contraception, abortifacients and sterilization to women.
However, today’s ruling also makes clear that the Court has not ruled on the merits of the case.
“The Court expresses no view on the merits of the cases,” the decision said. “In particular, the Court does not decide whether petitioners’ religious exercise has been substantially burdened, whether the Government has a compelling interest, or whether the current regulations are the least restrictive means of serving that interest.”
“Although there may still be areas of disagreement between the parties on issues of implementation, the importance of those areas of potential concern is uncertain, as is the necessity of this Court’s involvement at this point to resolve them.”
The good news is that the Little Sisters and other litigants in the suit will not have to pay crippling fines for refusing to offer the coverage. Life News is reporting this decision as a “win” for the Little Sisters and Fox News is calling it a “duck.” Others say it leaves the issue unresolved and means the battle is not yet over.
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