Stop the Endless Exemptions and Accommodations on Contraception, CFI Tells Supreme Court


For Immediate Release: April 8, 2020
Contact: Center for Inquiry
info@centerforinquiry.org - (716) 636-4869

The Supreme Court must put a stop to the relentless attempts by religious groups to deny contraceptive coverage to employees, said the Center for Inquiry today, urging the Court to end the absurd back-and-forth over whether applying for a religious exemption is itself a religious liberty violation.

The Center for Inquiry (CFI), which advocates for reason, science, and secular principles, filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in the cases of Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania and Trump v. Pennsylvania. These cases represent the latest incarnation of the fight over exemptions to the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), under which employees are required to receive coverage for all FDA-approved methods of contraception without co-payments. The cases follow the Supreme Court’s involvement in this matter in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Zubick v. Burwell.

“The federal government has bent over backwards to acquiesce to the demands of religious groups that refuse to accept that not everyone shares their medieval views about contraception, and there is no reason to take these accommodations to this absurd extreme,” said Nick Little, CFI’s Vice President and General Counsel. “It’s simply pandering to religious groups to suggest that telling the government they want an exemption itself violates their religious rights.”

“There’s a reason that’s never been held as a substantial burden before,” said Little. “Because it’s not.”

Under the Obama administration, the Department of Health and Human Services provided an accommodation for those religious non-profit employers with an objection to contraception, whereby they would inform the government of this objection, and coverage would be provided to their employees without the religious group’s involvement. In Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court ruled that this accommodation must be extended to religiously motivated for-profit corporations. In Zubick, religious groups protested that these accommodations did not go far enough, and the Supreme Court remanded the cases back to the Courts of Appeal to attempt to come to a resolution.

The Trump administration again changed the rules of the accommodation, accepting the religious argument that the mere act of applying for an exemption placed a “substantial burden” on that group’s religious practice, and, under the new rules, participation in the accommodation process was made voluntary. Pennsylvania and New Jersey sued to enjoin the new rules, and federal courts ruled that the administration’s expanded accommodation was neither required nor permitted under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

CFI’s brief, which is joined by American Atheists and the American Humanist Association, addresses the claim by petitioner Little Sisters of the Poor that signing a letter indicating that they did not wish to fulfill the contraceptive mandate’s requirements on religious grounds was a sufficient burden on their religion, and that this entitled them to an accommodation under RFRA.

“If you want status as a conscientious objector, you have to apply for it,” said Little. “If your church wants to use a drug that is federally banned for religious worship, you have to apply for it. There’s absolutely no basis for the argument here that raising your hand to say ‘we want the exemption’ is a religious burden. That’s farcical.”

CFI argues that recognizing this as a burden to be accommodated is not only unnecessary, but unconstitutional, as it would privilege religion over nonreligion in a fashion prohibited by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. 

“A full decade after the passing of the ACA, religious groups are still fighting to prevent their employees from having access to contraception. What a nurse from a Catholic retirement home does with her earnings is her business, not her boss’s,” added Little.

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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at centerforinquiry.org.