On Monday, March 9, the Supreme Court sent the University of Notre Dame’s HHS contraception mandate case back to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals for reconsideration. In what is being called a landmark decision for religious liberty in the United States, the Supreme Court effectively nullified the Circuit Court’s previous dismissal of Notre Dame’s case against being forced by the HHS to offer health insurance to its employees that provides subsidies for contraception and abortion-inducing drugs with no co-payment. In light of the Hobby Lobby decision last June to allow the Christian company to not provide health insurance that violates the owners’ religious convictions, the Supreme Court has asked the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider its dismissal of Notre Dame’s case.
The University of Notre Dame, a Catholic college founded by the Congregation of the Holy Cross in 1842 in South Bend, Indiana, is just one of over one hundred mainly religiously-affiliated non-profit organizations and institutions to sue the federal government over being forced to compromise their missions and beliefs through the HHS’s Affordable Care Act. Notre Dame’s mission statement reads, “A Catholic university draws its basic inspiration from Jesus Christ as the source of wisdom and from the conviction that in him all things can be brought to their completion. As a Catholic university, Notre Dame wishes to contribute to this educational mission.” The University’s serious commitment to following Jesus Christ in the tradition of Roman Catholicism means that it follows the Church’s stance on contraception and abortion, something that the mandate would virtually eliminate. Paul J. Browne, Notre Dame’s vice president of public affairs and communication, said that mandate “violated our religious beliefs by requiring Notre Dame’s participation in a regulatory scheme to provide abortion-inducing products, contraceptives, and sterilization.”
The Becket Fund, a legal group supporting Notre Dame, filed an amicus brief following the decision on March 9. Mark Rienzi, Senior Counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said, “This is a major blow to the federal government’s contraception mandate. For the past year, the Notre Dame decision has been the centerpiece of the government’s effort to force religious ministries to violate their beliefs or pay fines to the IRS” and that the decision is a strong indicator that the Supreme Court “will ultimately reject the government’s narrow view of religious liberty.”
This Supreme Court decision and the ultimate decision of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals will be important moving forward to set precedence for the many other cases against the HHS by other non-profit organizations who do not want to violate their faith. As the struggle for religious freedom continues, it will be vital to watch how the Circuit Court treats Notre Dame’s case and other cases.