Priests for Life’s Challenge to the Obamacare “Contraception Mandate” Heads to U.S. Supreme Court

1200Yesterday, the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC) filed a “Petition for Writ of Certiorari” in the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the Court to grant review of its case challenging the Obamacare contraception mandate on behalf of Priests for Life, a nonprofit, Catholic organization; Father Frank Pavone, the National Director of Priests for Life; Dr. Alveda King, the niece of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Pastoral Associate and Director of African-American Outreach for Priests for Life; and Janet Morana, the Executive Director of Priests for Life. The petition specifically asks the Court to decide whether the challenged mandate as applied against non-exempt, nonprofit religious employers violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

On December 19, Federal Judge Emmett G. Sullivan, sitting in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, upheld the government’s enforcement of the contraception mandate as applied against Priests for Life. Within an hour, AFLC filed an immediate appeal of the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and within 24 hours, filed an emergency motion asking the court to halt the mandate pending appeal. On December 31, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit granted the injunction.

AFLC is now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case pursuant to a special Supreme Court rule, which allows review of a case pending in a U.S. appellate court before judgment is entered in that court if “the case is of such imperative public importance as to justify deviation from normal appellate practice and to require immediate determination in this Court.”

In its petition, AFLC argues that the Court should grant review of the case because it is “imperative” that the Court immediately resolve the important liberty issues at stake for nonprofit religious employers that are subject to the mandate. As noted in the petition, the Court will be deciding this term in Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius whether the owners of for-profit family businesses, or their closely-held business corporations, have free exercise rights that are violated by the mandate.

As argued in the petition, because the challenged mandate also applies to nonprofit religious organizations such as Priests for Life, it will serve the public interest by having this matter resolved immediately for all affected parties. As stated in the petition:

“Petitioners, a Catholic, pro-life advocacy organization and several of its officers, including Father Frank Pavone, are uniquely situated to advance this important challenge on behalf of non-exempt religious employers who object to the contraceptive services mandate on religious grounds. Indeed, Priests for Life was founded in 1991 to pursue in a singularly-focused way one of the most important religious purposes of the Catholic Church today: to spread the Gospel of Life to people throughout the world. The Gospel of Life, which is an expression of the Catholic Church’s position and central teaching regarding the value and inviolability of human life, affirms and promotes the culture of life and actively opposes and rejects the culture of death. Contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients are all instruments of the culture of death, and their use can never be approved, endorsed, facilitated, promoted, or supported in any way. Thus, this challenge goes to the very core of Priests for Life’s corporate raison d’être. Consequently, Petitioners are well situated to challenge the mandate and its application to non-exempt, nonprofit religious organizations.”

Robert Muise, Co-Founder and Senior Counsel of AFLC, commented:

“There is little doubt that the question of whether Obama’s unconscionable mandate violates the free exercise rights of religious organizations is not only important to Priests for Life, but to all freedom-loving Americans. Consequently, it is imperative and of great public importance that the Court grant review of this case and promptly resolve this question, which ultimately affects the religious freedom of all private citizens.”

David Yerushalmi, Co-Founder and Senior Counsel of AFLC, commented:

“It is evident that the Obama administration has little regard for the religious beliefs of Catholic organizations like Priests for Life and even less regard for our Constitution and the rule of law. Consequently, it is imperative that the Supreme Court grant review of this case and immediately halt this administration’s assault on our Constitution and the freedoms it guarantees all American citizens.”

AFLC’s lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and its Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius; the U.S. Department of the Treasury and its Secretary, Jacob Lew; and the U.S. Department of Labor and its Secretary, Thomas Perez. Each department has a role in enforcing the challenged mandate.