6 Things To Know: New York State District Court Decision Regarding Religious Liberty
Religion & Liberty Online

6 Things To Know: New York State District Court Decision Regarding Religious Liberty

On Monday, the Eastern District Court of New York State struck down a lower court’s decision that the Catholic Archdiocese of New York had to comply with the HHS mandate requiring all employers to provide artificial birth control, abortifacients and abortion coverage as part of employee health care. Here are 6 things you need to know about this decision.

  • There are a lot of cases out there against the HHS mandate. What makes this decision special?

This case is important…because it recognizes that even the act of having to claim the exemption is an unacceptable burden on religion…The Archdiocese of New York, and many other religious organizations, pointed out that the act of self-certifying is itself a violation of its religious beliefs and sued.

  • This case has helped point out that the Obama administration still isn’t sure what’s in this law. As the case was on-going, the government suddenly realized that the law didn’t force third party coverage for those organizations/businesses that find the law objectionable. The judge “was not amused:”

The Government’s belated “realization” that the challenged regulations may not actually result in the provision of contraceptive coverage to plaintiffs’ employees is difficult to fathom. . . . It is unclear how citizens like plaintiffs . . . are supposed to know what the law requires of them if the Government itself is unsure. After almost 18 months of litigation, defendants now effectively concede that the regulatory tale told by the Government was a non-sequitur.

  • This one probably isn’t a shock to anyone: the Obama administration really doesn’t take religious beliefs seriously.

In an astonishing display of anti-religious sentiment, the administration argued that forcing religious organizations to designate a third party to provide contraception coverage to their employees isn’t a big deal (legally: de minimis) because it’s “just a form” to fill out, “a purely administrative task.” The district court rightly found that whether a violation of religious freedom is small or large isn’t for the courts to decide. It would be too easy to simply sweep away deeply-held religious beliefs under the claim that government action is merely “de minimis” infringement of rights.

  • The administration has handed out exception after exception to the law, to the point where the law has been rendered toothless. The court said regarding this,

The Government has not made a similar showing of a compelling interest in uniform enforcement of the Mandate, for the simple reason that enforcement of the Mandate is currently anything but uniform. Tens of millions of people are exempt from the Mandate, under exemptions for grandfathered health plans, small businesses, and “religious employers” like the Diocesan plaintiffs here. Millions of women thus will not receive contraceptive coverage without cost-sharing through the Mandate. Having granted so many exemptions already, the Government cannot show a compelling interest in denying one to these plaintiffs.

  • Bad litigation on the part of the government undermined their argument further. In essence, the government argued that the Archdiocese would be forced  “to fill out a form which, though it violates their religious beliefs, may ultimately serve no purpose whatsoever.” Not only was the government’s argument sloppy, it further underlines the administration’s hostility towards religious beliefs.
  • The Obama administration clearly believes it is exempt from the Constitution.

The Government first argues that the alternatives above are infeasible because the defendants lack statutory authority to enact some of them. This argument makes no sense; in any challenge to the constitutionality of a federal law, the question is whether the federal government could adopt a less restrictive means, not any particular branch within it. It would set a dangerous precedent to hold that if the Executive Branch cannot act unilaterally, then there is no alternative solution. If defendants lack the required statutory authority, Congress may pass appropriate legislation.

Read “Six Important Take-Aways From Yesterday’s Decision Striking Down The Contraception Mandate in New York” at Ace of Spades.


Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.