Excerpts below. Read the entire article at The Washington Post
Some of the most hotly contested issues that come in front of the Supreme Court are based in religion. Our national debates over the death penalty, gay rights, abortion and a host of other topics are often powerfully related to faith. The disputes that the court litigates so often start when people feel that their right to freely exercise their religion has been restricted or their religious values have been violated.
In Merrick Garland’s 19 years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, cases related to religious freedom have come across his docket several times.
Case 4: Is the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate unfair to religious nonprofits?
By far the most closely watched of these cases, Priests for Life v. United States Department of Health and Human Services, is now set for a Supreme Court argument next week. Bundled with six other cases that all address the question of contraception coverage, it is one of the most highly anticipated Supreme Court cases of the term. And on its way to the high court, it passed through Garland’s courtroom.
The case focuses on the mandate under the Affordable Care Act that employers provide contraception to employees. Religious employers can opt out of providing contraception directly, but Priests for Life argued that even opting out is too burdensome, because the government ensures that the employees still have access to contraceptives.
That mandate, Priests for Life argued, violates the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act — the same law often discussed nationwide when wedding photographers or cake bakers say it would violate their religion to cater to a gay wedding.
In May, Garland voted in the majority in the 6-to-3 Court of Appeals decision to deny an en banc hearing, which would have been heard by the whole court. That denial meant that the earlier decision, against Priests for Life, stood — for now. The Supreme Court will have its say soon.
“Priests for Life [is] of course an incredibly important case,” Wexler emailed, “but Garland didn’t write anything separately on it. He simply voted to deny rehearing en banc, which doesn’t say much of anything about his views on the case, other than that he didn’t think the panel opinion denying the Priests’ religious freedom claim was clearly wrong.”