Duffey specifically held that the archdioceses of Atlanta and Savannah are “entirely exempt” from the contraceptive mandate, including the “self-certification” form to notify third-party insurers that no contraceptive coverage is offered to employees.
The judge issued a permanent injunction barring the federal government from enforcing the mandate against Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese, a nonprofit social services agency, and Catholic Education of North Georgia, Inc., the operator of five schools with nearly 12,000 students and more than 4,800 teachers and administrators.
In his Wednesday ruling, Duffey said the federal government’s interests in promoting public health and giving women equal access to health care were not compelling “because the contraceptive mandate does not apply to the insurance plans of millions of women in this country.” He cited grandfathered health plans, small businesses and religious employers, all exempt from the mandate.
The judge shredded the arguments for the self-certification form. He said, “At its core, the self-certification form requires” the church-affiliated nonprofits “to modify their behavior when the final rules compel them to sign and deliver a document that is designed by the government to set in motion delivery of contraceptive products and services to which they so strenuously object.”
Refusal by religious nonprofits to self-certify results in the government pressuring them “to either provide contraceptive coverage on their own or face a fine of $100 a day for each affected beneficiary,” Duffey said. And if the organizations cancel their health plans to avoid the mandate, “they may be subject to an annual penalty of $2,000 per full-time employee.”
Thus, the judge concluded, “the purpose and effect of the self-certification form is to enable the provision of contraceptive coverage.” He termed it “a government imposed device that pressures the plaintiffs into facilitating the contraceptive coverage to which they have sincerely held religious objections” — because without the form, a third-party administrator is not authorized to provide coverage.
Duffey’s ruling is another in a string of more than 50 federal court injunctions around the country against Obamacare’s assault on religious liberty and freedom of conscience regarding the contraceptive mandate alone. Thus, the issue probably will eventually land in the Supreme Court, which is now considering two related cases, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, which assert the right of corporations to refuse to provide contraceptive coverage on the basis of the religious convictions of the ownership.
A key issue in these cases is interpretation of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act and whether it applies to corporations and not only individuals. The same question holds true regarding the First Amendment. The decision probably will be a close one, and we can only hope the court majority will follow the lead of Judge Duffey and uphold religious freedom for all Americans including business owners.