In his ruling, Cogan commented that despite the accommodation, the Catholic organizations faced “substantial” burdens on their religious beliefs and “coercive pressure” to comply with the mandate. He noted that the institutions were given the options of violating their religious beliefs or paying thousands of dollars per employee per year in fines.
The judge rejected the Department of Health and Human Services’ claim that there is no viable alternative to the mandate in providing access to contraceptives and related products. Rather, he stated, “numerous less restrictive alternatives are readily apparent,” such as the government directly providing contraceptives to individuals.
“It would set a dangerous precedent to hold that if the Executive Branch cannot act unilaterally, then there is no alternative solution,” Cogan commented, adding that “Congress may pass appropriate legislation” if the Executive Branch is unable to create an alternative on its own.
He also rejected the argument that alternatives to the federal mandate would be less effective or too burdensome on women. If such alternatives “only entail filling out a form,” he suggested as an example, the “burden of filling out that form should fall on those who have no religious objection to doing so.”
Joseph Zwilling, communications director for the Archdiocese of New York, welcomed the ruling in a Dec. 16 statement.
“The court has correctly cut through the artificial construct which essentially made faith-based organizations other than churches and other houses of worship second class citizens with second class First Amendment protections,” he said.
“Religious freedom is our ‘First Freedom,’ guaranteed in the Constitution of the United States,” he confirmed, adding that the decision reiterates that freedom of religion is not merely the freedom to worship, but also “must include how we act in accord with our religious beliefs.”