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WASHINGTON — When does a government “accommodation” work as an opt-out for religious nonprofits that object to providing mandated services, and when does it authorize those same services?
Those questions were at the forefront of the March 23 Supreme Court hearing, as the eight-member court heard oral arguments from lawyers representing the Little Sisters of the Poor and six other cases filed by religious nonprofits that seek an exemption from the Health and Human Services’ contraceptive mandate.
Zubik v. Burwell (No. 14-1418) specifically asked the justices to consider whether the accommodation violated the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). But the practical details of the workaround occupied much of the oral arguments, with dueling views of its impact on objecting employers.
Zubik v. Burwell represented the consolidation of seven cases, including legal challenges to the mandate filed by the Archdiocese of Washington, the Diocese of Pittsburgh, The Catholic University of America and Priests for Life: Priests for Life v. Burwell, Southern Nazarene University v. Burwell, Geneva College v. Burwell, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington v. Burwell, East Texas Baptist University v. Burwell and Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged v. Burwell.'
“The crux of the matter is that the government doesn’t see the weight of religious liberty,” said Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, after he left the Supreme Court. “As they made clear, the provision of these services is not their only compelling interest. They also want to provide them seamlessly to employees.”
“The problem is: The more seamless you make it, the more complicit you make us,” he said.
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