On September 24, 2013, a group of non-profit Catholic-based organizations filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Colorado under the First Amendment, Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the Administrative Procedure Act against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The plaintiffs, who all provide health care to their employees through the Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust, were represented by the public interest firm Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The plaintiffs asked the court to rule that the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) contraception insurance mandate, even with the accommodation for non-profit religious organizations, was unconstitutional. Specifically, the plaintiffs asked for both a preliminary and permanent injunction to keep the government from enforcing the contraception insurance mandate.
On October 24, 2013, the plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary injunction. The defendants opposed this motion on the grounds that the accommodation to the ACA mandate does not substantially burden the plaintiffs' religious freedom under RFRA or cause the plaintiffs irreparable harm.
On November 8, 2013, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss for lack of standing, or, alternatively for summary judgment. On December 27, 2013, Judge William J. Martinez denied the plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunction and the defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of standing. On December 27, 2013, the plaintiff appealed the court's decision to deny preliminary injunction to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit (No. 13-1540). On December 31, 2013, the appellate court denied the plaintiff's motion for an emergency injunction. That same day, however, Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor granted plaintiff's requested injunction pending receipt of a response by the government. On Jan. 24, 2014, the Supreme Court issued an injunction pending appeal, stating:
"If the employer applicants inform the Secretary of Health and Human Services in writing that they are non-profit organizations that hold themselves out as religious and have religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services, the respondents are enjoined from enforcing against the applicants the challenged provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and related regulations pending final disposition of the appeal by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. To meet the condition for injunction pending appeal, applicants need not use the form prescribed by the Government and need not send copies to third-party administrators. The Court issues this order based on all of the circumstances of the case, and this order should not be construed as an expression of the Court's views on the merits."
On March 6, 2014, the defendant filed a motion to consolidate this appeal with two similar cases: Southern Nazarene University v. Sebelius
and Reaching Souls International v. Sebelius
. On March 31, 2014, the Court of Appeals denied the defendant's motion to consolidate.
However, on July 14, 2015, the Court of Appeals denied the plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction in an opinion that joined this case and Southern Nazarene University v. Sebelius. (794 F.3d 1151). The same day, the plaintiffs petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari. The plaintiffs objected to using the expanded accommodation designed by the court, in which they would not have to notify their insurers directly about their religious opposition to contraception, but would have to communicate that opposition and the name of their insurer to the Department of Health and Human Services. The plaintiffs requested a rehearing en banc, but the Tenth Circuit denied the request in an order on September 3, 2015. 799 F.3d 1315.
On November 6, 2015, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case in order to consider whether notifying the federal government by signing a form identifying the employer as a religious nonprofit that objects to the contraceptive services mandate (so that the government can work with the insurer or benefits provider to ensure employees have contraceptive coverage) violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or constitutes the least restrictive means of achieving a compelling government interest. This case was consolidated with six other cases dealing with this issue. Together, the cases are known as Zubik v. Burwell [II]
This case was argued on March 23, 2016. On March 29, 2016, in an unusual move, the Supreme Court directed the parties to file supplemental briefs suggesting a solution to their disagreement, in which employees could still receive contraception coverage without employers giving any notice to the government. On May 16, 2016, the Court issued a per curiam order remanding all seven cases to their respective courts of appeals, ordering the lower courts to give the parties time to come to agreement on an approach that that "accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans 'receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.'" 136 S.Ct 1557, 1560. The Court took no position on the merits of this case. This case is now being considered on remand by the Tenth Circuit. Mallory Jones - 03/31/2014
Kate Craddock - 06/12/2016