Hobby Lobby Precedent Already Undermined, Says Justice Sotomayor

Thursday, July 3, the United States Supreme Court granted an application for injunction pending appeal by Wheaton College, overriding its requirements for exemption from the contraceptive mandate under the Affordable Care Act, while calling into question the extent of the court’s holding in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Inc.  In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor writes that this order “evinces disregard for even the newest of this Court’s precedents and undermines confidence in this institution.” Wheaton v. Burwell, 573 U.S. ____ (2014).  Wheaton College sought an injunction ruling that it need not file EBSA Form 700 to designate itself as a religious nonprofit organization seeking religious exception from the ACA’s contraceptive mandate.  Wheaton argued that the form substantially burdens its right to the free exercise of religion, violating RFRA, as submitting the form authorizes a third-party administrator to provide coverage for the contraceptives.  Wheaton views that filing this form will make it complicit in providing the contraceptives, thereby violating its religious beliefs. This order comes only a few days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Sotres, Inc. that religious for-profit organizations could partake in the same exemption from the mandate afforded to religious nonprofits.  Justices Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Kagan point out in a lengthy dissent that this order substantially differs from the court’s reasoning expressed in Hobby Lobby.  Therein the court ruled that the exemption “constitutes an alternative that achieves all of the Government’s aims while providing greater respect for religious liberty.”  The court ruled that the exemption and its procedure are the least restrictive means to achieve the Government’s compelling interests in public health and women’s well-being.  This order, however, undermines that ruling by allowing the religious nonprofit organization to further evade the procedural requirements of a properly enacted law under the guise of an undue burden on the right to freely exercise religion.  

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