Catholic Schools Lose Bid to Freeze Judge’s Contraceptive Order

Dec 24, 2013 12:01 am ET

Dec. 24 (Bloomberg) -- The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington and the archdiocese’s schools failed to persuade a judge to delay her order that they provide cost-free coverage for contraceptive services to employees to comply with Obamacare.

U.S. District Judge Amy Jackson in Washington yesterday denied the archbishop’s request to freeze her Dec. 20 order, in which she rejected arguments that the requirement violates religious freedom, while the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington considers an appeal by the church and the schools. The request was filed on an emergency basis as the deadline for the mandate is Jan. 1.

Following Jackson’s rejection, the archbishop’s lawyers asked the appeals court to put her ruling on hold. Determining whether insurance coverage for contraceptives violates religious beliefs is “for individual believers, not courts,” the archbishop said in a filing with the appeals court.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 26 agreed to hear two cases brought by business owners who object on religious grounds to the birth-control mandate. The lawsuits by the for-profit employers, the craft store chain Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., will be the court’s first look at President Barack Obama’s biggest legislative accomplishment since a majority of the justices upheld the core of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2012.

Religious Freedom

Previously, appeals courts in Chicago, Denver and Washington ruled the mandate may violate religious freedom, while appellate panels in Philadelphia and Cincinnati had sided with the government.

Under a revision to Affordable Care Act coverage requirements, Catholic health and education groups are to notify third-party benefit administrators of their objections to the contraception mandate and allow them to provide coverage to employees by Jan. 1. Jackson, disagreeing with the plaintiffs, said that notification requirement wasn’t a substantial burden on the groups’ religious rights.

The claims the archbishop made are “practically identical” to those the archdiocese made in a previous case that Jackson threw out in January, she said in her ruling.

Jackson’s ruling conflicts with a Dec. 16 order by U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan in Brooklyn, New York, that barred the government from enforcing the mandate against a group of New York-based Catholic health and educational organizations. This month, the University of Notre Dame filed a complaint in federal court in South Bend, Indiana, challenging the law.

David Timothy Raimer, a lawyer representing the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington, didn’t immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment on yesterday’s ruling.

The appeal is Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington v. Sebelius, 13-5371, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The district court case is Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington v. Sebelius, 13-cv-01441, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

The New York case is Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York v. Sebelius, 12-cv-2542, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).

--Editors: Mary Romano, Michael Hytha