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Supreme Court Remands College’s Case Against HHS Mandate to Lower Courts

Supreme Court Remands College’s Case Against HHS Mandate to Lower Courts

Posted: May 16, 2016

Today the United States Supreme Court unanimously issued an order in Zubik v. Burwell, a case challenging the HHS mandate that religious institutions must facilitate the provision of insurance coverage for contraceptives, abortifacients, and other objectionable services to their employees, contrary to their deeply held religious beliefs. Thomas Aquinas College is a co-plaintiff in the case.

The order takes no position on the merits of the case, but vacates and remands the 35 cases involved back to the courts of appeal to reconsider the matter in the light of the supplemental briefings submitted at the request of the Court by the plaintiffs and the government. The briefings — the first the high court has requested in 50 years — considered whether alternative means could be used to provide the objectionable coverage to employees without involving the religious employers. The briefs were submitted in April, following oral arguments on March 23.

Says the College’s general counsel, Quincy Masteller, “As the Court’s order says, attorneys for the government admitted in its supplemental brief what we presented in our own brief — that indeed there are alternative, less restrictive means of providing the objectionable coverage to employees. According to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), when less restrictive means exist, the government must pursue them to accomplish its goals.”

Masteller further explains, “The court, therefore, in its order, also gives a strong nod toward the notion that the parties will be given time to engage in settlement discussions before the appellate courts take up the issue again.”

Commenting on today’s ruling, Dr. Michael F. McLean, president of Thomas Aquinas College, says, “We are hopeful that in the settlement discussions going forward, the government will agree to abandon its four-year effort to force religious institutions such as ours to violate our deeply held religious beliefs,” adding, “the government is free to pursue alternative means to achieve its purpose.”

He continues, “With today’s order, the threat of an annual penalty — possibly as high as $2.85 million — for not complying with the HHS mandate has been removed, at least for the immediate future. We ask all friends of Thomas Aquinas College and all who cherish religious liberty, to join with us in continued prayers for a favorable resolution.”

Attorneys at the Jones Day Law Firm in Washington, D.C., represent Thomas Aquinas College. Co-plaintiffs in the case include the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., Priests for Life, and The Catholic University of America.