Americans United, Allies Ask Federal Appeals Court To Protect Non-Profit Employees’ Access To Birth Control

Religious Organizations Are Not Burdened By Contraceptive Mandate Thanks To Accommodation, Say Civil Liberties Groups

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals should rule against a Missouri Christian school’s request for additional exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) birth control regulations, Americans United for Separation for Church and State and its allies say.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed yesterday, Americans United, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Missouri and the People for the American Way Foundation argued that School of the Ozarks’ free exercise of religion is not inhibited by completing the paperwork for the current mandate exemption.

“Employers do not have a First Amendment right to stop their employees from accessing health care,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Organizations like School of the Ozarks are in no way being forced to violate their beliefs by simply signing a piece of paper stating their objection to paying for contraceptive coverage.”

The school claims that a provision of the ACA requiring religiously affiliated institutions to allow third-party insurers to provide contraceptive coverage to employees is a violation of its religious liberty. But in their brief, the civil liberties groups argue that the accommodation does not burden the school’s religious exercise, and in any event, serves compelling government interests in promoting women’s health, equality and reproductive freedom. 

The brief also notes that every court of appeals to consider a similar challenge from a religious nonprofit organization has upheld the coverage regulations.

“Plaintiff is entitled to opt out of covering contraceptives, but it is not entitled to opt others out of stepping in to fill the void,” the brief asserts.

The brief for School of the Ozarks v. RightCHOICE Managed Care, Inc. and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was prepared by Americans United Senior Litigation Counsel Gregory M. Lipper and Steven Gey Fellow Charles C. Gokey.