WASHINGTON (CNS) — A day after the Supreme Court said closely held for-profit companies could be exempted from some requirements of the Affordable Care Act because of the owners’ religious beliefs, it kicked back to lower courts six related cases involving companies whose Catholic owners have similar objections.
The court June 30 ruled 5-4 that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods, both owned by Christian families, were protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act from having to provide employees coverage in their health insurance of contraceptives to which they object on religious grounds.
The ruling said the federal government’s interest in providing universal coverage for contraceptives could be met by means that do not require employers to pay for such insurance. Churches themselves are exempt and the government has in place an accommodation for nonexempt church-run institutions and it could be expanded to other employers. Under the accommodation employers can direct a third party, such as the manager of their health care plan, to provide the coverage without cost to the employers.
Catholic leaders have objected to the accommodation, saying coverage for contraceptives, abortifacient drugs and sterilization procedures that violate Catholic teaching on human life and dignity would still be offered to church employees. And the employers would still be supporting the services indirectly by paying premiums to the insurer, who would be eligible for reimbursement of the services from the federal government.
In orders related to pending appeals released July 1, the court sent six cases back to lower courts to consider in light of its ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, as the case paired with Conestoga Woods was titled.
In three of the cases, the court simply declined to review them, meaning the rulings by lower courts prevail. In the other three, the cases were sent back to the appeals courts with instructions to reconsider them in light of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.
The three cases that were simply denied had all been decided in favor of the Catholic employers. The repetition of the name Burwell in the cases comes because they all involve lawsuits against Health and Human Services, headed by Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell. They included:
— Department of Health and Human Services v. Gilardi, in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in favor of the Gilardi brothers, Catholics who own food service companies in Ohio.
— Burwell v. Newland, in which the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found in favor of the Newland family, owners of Hercules Industries, a Colorado-based heating and cooling company. The Newlands said they believe their faith prohibits the use of contraceptives, abortifacients and sterilization and sued to avoid having to provide that in employee health insurance.
— Burwell v. Korte, in which the Korte families, who own an Illinois construction company, Korte & Luitjohan Contractors, and the Grote family, who own Grote Industries, an Indiana company that makes vehicle safety systems, whose appeal of the contraceptive requirement was upheld by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Kortes had objected in their filing to all types of contraceptives, sterilization and any counseling about such matters.
The three cases that were remanded for further consideration by appeals courts in light of the Hobby Lobby ruling included:
— Autocam Corp. v. Burwell, a Michigan auto and medical supply manufacturing company owned by the Kennedy family. The family had objected all types of contraceptive services in the mandate. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had rejected the claims.
— Gilardi v. Department of Health and Human Services, a separate case by the same Ohio family in the case above. This case was brought on behalf of their corporation and was rejected by the D.C. Circuit Court.
— Eden Foods v. Burwell, a Michigan organic food company owned by Michael Potter. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had rejected his claims.
The court also July 1 added cases to its docket for its next term that may draw interest from organizations focused on the First Amendment and on the rights of pregnant women.
In Reed v. Town of Gilbert, the court will consider whether the town of Gilbert, Arizona, unconstitutionally restricts the right of Good News Community Church to post signs about its services. The town’s sign ordinance requires permits for any type of sign, although it has 19 types of exemptions. The church did not qualify for any of the exemptions and its pastor sued, saying the law unconstitutionally favored political messages while disallowing signs about religious activities. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the sign ordinance to be content-neutral.
And in Young v. United Parcel Service, the court will consider whether the package shipping company’s policies discriminate against pregnant workers in violation of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The plaintiff, Peggy Young, was a UPS driver who was not allowed to go on light duty when she became pregnant. The company policy allows such temporary changes of duty only for employees who were injured on the job, who are classified as disabled under federal disability law or who lose their federal driver certificate.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Young.
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