“There is no way that a court can, or should, determine that a coerced violation of conscience is of insufficient quantum to merit constitutional protection,” the judge wrote.
A federal judge in New York has issued the first permanent injunction against the federal contraception mandate, a ruling that religious freedom advocates are praising as a major victory.
“There is no way that a court can, or should, determine that a coerced violation of conscience is of insufficient quantum to merit constitutional protection,” wrote Judge Brian Cogan of the Federal District Court in Brooklyn in a Dec. 16 ruling.
He explained that the controversial mandate “burdens plaintiffs’ religion by coercing them into authorizing third parties to provide this coverage through the self-certification requirement, an act forbidden by plaintiffs’ religion.”
Judge Cogan issued the ruling in a case brought by the Catholic archdioceses of New York and Rockville Centre, as well as associated Catholic institutions within the archdioceses. The lawsuit challenged the federal contraception mandate, arguing that it amounts to an unconstitutional violation of religious freedom.
The mandate, issued as a directive under the Affordable Care Act, requires employers to offer health insurance plans covering contraceptives, sterilization, and some products that may cause early abortions.
In his ruling, Cogan dismissed the complaints of the archdioceses themselves, because they are already exempt from the mandate in its finalized form, which was released by the Obama administration after an extensive revision process.
However, he granted permanent injunctive relief to the remaining plaintiffs that were not already exempt: Cardinal Spellman High School, Monsignor Farrell High School, Catholic Health Care System – or ArchCare – and Catholic Health Services of Long Island. The injunction protects the organizations from the demands of the mandate and from the penalties for failing to comply with it.
This marks the first time a judge has granted a permanent injunction in a case challenging the mandate, although other institutions have received temporary injunctions. Some 89 cases against the federal regulation have been filed by a total of nearly 300 plaintiffs across the country. Many are still working their way through the court system. The Supreme Court has announced that it will hear a challenge to the mandate brought by two for-profit business owners, with a ruling expected next summer.
In the New York case, the federal government argued that it had adequately provided for the religious freedom of the organizations through an “accommodation” offered to non-exempt religious employers, whereby they would act to trigger a third-party administration to provide the coverage. The plaintiffs argued that the plan still required them to facilitate the coverage that they found morally objectionable.
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