East Texas Baptist Univ. v. Burwell

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: November 6, 2015
  • Case #: 15-35
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: 793 F.3d 449 (5th Cir)
  • Full Text Opinion

Whether the process to receive an accommodation under the Affordable Care Act, which allows a non-profit religious organization to not pay for mandated coverage of contraception, relieves the substantial burden under the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act.

Petitioners are non-profit religious universities that challenge the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraception mandate that requires coverage of all FDA approved contraceptives, including methods that directly conflict with Petitioners’ religious beliefs. In order to avoid paying a penalty for not providing coverage, Petitioners may notify the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) or the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) of their oppositions. The notification certifies the grounds for religious objections and transfers funding of contraceptives to the insurance company or a third party administrator. Providing separate payment accommodation is the sole regulatory recourse available for non-profit employers that challenge ACA’s mandate on religious grounds.

The trial courts granted all Petitioners injunctive relief and the court of appeals reversed. After dismissing Petitioners’ argument that ACA’s regulations placed a substantial burden per the Religious Freedom Reformation Act (RFRA), the court focused its analysis on whether the regulation pressures Petitioners’ to modify their beliefs through compliance. The court consulted Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Ass’n and Bowen v. Roy and held that government action, deferred to through notice to obtain separate payment, is detached from Petitioners’ and therefore does not implicate their undisputedly sincere religious beliefs. Further, the court distinguished this case from Burwell v. Hobby Lobby because here Petitioners represent non-profit organizations that are allowed an accommodation option unavailable to for-profit employers.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari to decide whether the accommodation notice option alleviates (1) any substantial burden placed on Petitioners’ religious beliefs or (2) any violation of the RFRA. Petitioners argue that the accommodation option still places a substantial burden on their religious beliefs because they are still required to provide objected to contraceptive methods, regardless if they funded through separate payments.

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