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November 20, 2014 0

Good D.C. Circuit Ruling on ACA Contraception Mandate Opt-Out Rule

The influ­en­tial U.S. Court of Appeals for the Dis­trict of Colum­bia recently rejected legal claims by reli­gious non­prof­its assert­ing that even the min­i­mal require­ments for opt­ing out of the Afford­able Care Act’s (ACA) con­tra­cep­tion man­date vio­late their reli­gious free­dom rights.

DC Circuit Court of Appeals Building

DC Cir­cuit Court of Appeals Building

The ACA requires employer-provided health insur­ance to cover all FDA– approved pre­scrip­tion con­tra­cep­tion at no cost to employ­ees.  Houses of wor­ship and other sec­tar­ian insti­tu­tions are wholly exempted from this require­ment.  And religiously-affiliated orga­ni­za­tions may opt out of the con­tra­cep­tive man­date by merely sub­mit­ting a one-page form or oth­er­wise pro­vid­ing notice to its health plan issuer or the Depart­ment of Health and Human Ser­vices (HHS).  In that cir­cum­stance, the health insur­ance com­pany or a third-party admin­is­tra­tor pays for and admin­is­ters the coverage.

Despite this nom­i­nal require­ment, plain­tiffs in the case called Priests for Life v. U.S. Depart­ment of Health and Human Ser­vices claim that it “sub­stan­tially bur­dens” their reli­gious exer­cise in vio­la­tion of the fed­eral Reli­gious Free­dom Restora­tion Act (“RFRA”).  They assert that the opt-out notice require­ment “trig­gers” sub­sti­tute cov­er­age and thereby – makes them “con­duits” for pro­vid­ing con­tra­cep­tion cov­er­age in vio­la­tion of their reli­gious beliefs.

The Court soundly rejected this claim.  It found that the fil­ing of the form excuses plain­tiffs “… from play­ing any role in the pro­vi­sion of con­tra­cep­tion ser­vices, and they remain free to con­demn con­tra­cep­tion in the clear­est terms.”  And it fur­ther deter­mined that the ACA  — not the opt-out notice –oblig­ates health insur­ance com­pa­nies or HHS through third-party admin­is­tra­tors to pro­vide con­tra­cep­tion cov­er­age.  As a result, the Court cor­rectly con­cluded that:

Reli­gious objec­tors do not suf­fer sub­stan­tial bur­dens under RFRA where the only harm to them is that they sin­cerely feel aggrieved by their inabil­ity to pre­vent what other peo­ple do to ful­fill reg­u­la­tory objec­tives after they opt out.  They have no RFRA right to be free from the unease, or even anguish, of know­ing that third par­ties are legally priv­i­leged or oblig­ated to act in ways their reli­gion abhors.

The Court also deter­mined that the con­tra­cep­tion require­ment advances the com­pelling inter­ests of “pub­lic health and gen­der equal­ity” and the opt-out rule is the least restric­tive way to achieve these  inter­ests because it “requires as lit­tle as it can from the objec­tors while still serv­ing the government’s com­pelling state interests.”

The Court’s deci­sion appro­pri­ately ref­er­ences the real­ity of our nation’s reli­giously diverse work­force, stat­ing “[r]eligious non­prof­its like Plain­tiff orga­ni­za­tions employ mil­lions of Amer­i­cans — includ­ing indi­vid­u­als who do not share their beliefs.”   Given this diver­sity and our plu­ral­is­tic democ­racy, the Court’s deci­sion strikes the right bal­ance between reli­gious lib­erty and civil rights.

Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court’s dis­turb­ing Hobby Lobby deci­sion,  the Court in this case prop­erly rec­og­nized the true leg­isla­tive intent of RFRA: to shield to reli­gious prac­tice — not to serve as a sword to impose reli­gious beliefs on others.

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November 11, 2014 4

FAIR Advisory Board Member Promotes Racist Views in Anti-Semitic Paper

On Novem­ber 9, the anti-Semitic pub­li­ca­tion Amer­i­can Free Press (AFP) pub­lished an inter­view with extreme anti-immigrant activist Frosty Wooldridge. Wooldridge is an advi­sory board mem­ber with the extreme anti-immigrant group Fed­er­a­tion for Amer­i­can Immi­gra­tion Reform (FAIR). He has often den­i­grated immi­grants and Mus­lims in arti­cles but his com­ments in the AFP inter­view reveal that he har­bors beliefs that are preva­lent in white nation­al­ist circles.frosty-wooldridge

Wooldridge began his racist rant by assert­ing that 100 mil­lion non-white immi­grants will enter the U.S. between now and 2050. Wooldridge claimed these num­bers mean, “Whites in this coun­try are doomed.” Wooldridge then focused his atten­tion on African and Mus­lim immi­grants, stat­ing, “Amer­ica has imported seven mil­lion Mus­lims and Africans over the past decade.” He argues that “[t]hose who prac­tice Islam hold no eth­nic iden­tity with Eng­lish and Euro­pean cul­ture.” More­over, he main­tains that “… the African world­view is totally dif­fer­ent than that of Euro­peans. Their cul­ture is dia­met­ri­cally opposed to ours. That’s why so many blacks are in prison.” Wooldridge con­tin­ued, “Due to a father­less soci­ety that plagues the black com­mu­nity, many teenagers join gangs. But I guar­an­tee you, amid this racial strife, there will be more riots in the streets that’ll make Fer­gu­son look like a kinder­garten party. As this occurs, our coun­try, our ethos, lan­guage and civ­i­liza­tion are all going down.”

Wooldridge bemoans, “It’s a mul­ti­cul­tural morass. Blacks, Mus­lims, Indi­ans, His­pan­ics and Asians don’t want to become part of main­stream white soci­ety.” He insists, “They pre­fer to remain sep­a­rate,” con­clud­ing “we’re import­ing our demise as a civ­i­liza­tion. The U.S. will become the vic­tim of its own self-inflicted destiny.”

This is not Wooldridge’s first inter­view with AFP, a paper pub­lished by Willis Carto, one of the most influ­en­tial anti-Semitic pro­pa­gan­dists of the past 50 years. Nor is it Wooldridge’s only asso­ci­a­tion with anti-Semites. Ear­lier in 2014, Wooldridge appeared on “The Jeff Rense Pro­gram,” a conspiracy-oriented Inter­net radio show. Rense broad­casts his show on his noto­ri­ously anti-Semitic web­site, which pro­motes a wide vari­ety of con­spir­acy the­o­ries, from UFO reports to imag­ined envi­ron­men­tal threats to alleged Jew­ish con­trol of the world.

In addi­tion to Wooldridge, a num­ber of other promi­nent anti-immigrant fig­ures have granted inter­views to both AFP and anti-Semitic radio shows over the past few years.

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October 31, 2014 1

Alaska Borough Assembly Gets It Right on Legislative Prayer

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent leg­isla­tive prayer deci­sion (Greece v. Gal­loway) gen­er­ally sanc­tions sec­tar­ian prayers before alaska courthousemeet­ings of local leg­isla­tive bod­ies except for the most egre­gious cir­cum­stances. The opin­ion, how­ever, does not require local or state leg­is­la­tures to have open­ing prayers.

Rather, that deci­sion is solely in a leg­isla­tive body’s dis­cre­tion. On Octo­ber 20th the Ketchikan Gate­way Bor­ough, Alaska Assem­bly made the right call on this issue by vot­ing down 5–2 an ordi­nance that would have added open­ing prayers to reg­u­lar meet­ing agendas.

ADL agrees with the Assembly’s deci­sion because such open­ing prayers con­vey an exclu­sion­ary mes­sage – par­tic­u­larly to reli­gious minori­ties – at meet­ings of local gov­ern­ment bod­ies where ordi­nary cit­i­zens of diverse faiths or no faith seek recourse from their pub­lic officials.

If the dis­senters on the Assem­bly want to pro­vide a prayer oppor­tu­nity at pub­lic meet­ings, the most appro­pri­ate and inclu­sive prac­tice is a moment of silence.  It would allow all Assem­bly mem­bers and con­stituents who want to pray to do so silently with­out divid­ing the com­mu­nity along reli­gious lines.

 

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