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High Court Expands Religious Rights in Various Ways

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A trilogy of U.S. Supreme Court rulings have expanded religious rights, with one of the rulings pertaining to most private employers.  In Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, the Court ruled that the Trump Administration had the right to exempt employers that raised religious or moral objections to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) prior requirements that health-insurance plans cover contraceptives.  Justice Thomas wrote for the Court that the ACA gives administrators "broad exception" to carve out religious and moral exemptions, under a law that expressly deals with requiring cost-free "preventive care and screenings" and leaving it to the federal agency to determine what is included.  Justice Thomas wrote that: "It was Congress, not the Department, that declined to expressly require that contraceptive coverage in the ACA itself." 

The Court did not address whether the U.S. Religious Freedom Restoration Act requires the type of sweeping exemption the Administration put in place.  The Trump Administration had provided a blanket exemption from the coverage requirements for any employer, including for-profit and publicly traded corporations, that asserted religious or moral objections.  The ruling was 7-2, with only Justices Ginsberg and Sotomayor dissenting, arguing that the majority force women to pay the cost of their employers' religious beliefs.  A trilogy of U.S. Supreme Court rulings have expanded religious rights, with one of the rulings pertaining to most private employers.  In Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, the Court ruled that the Trump Administration had the right to exempt employers that raised religious or moral objections to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) prior requirements that health-insurance plans cover contraceptives.  Justice Thomas wrote for the Court that the ACA gives administrators "broad exception" to carve out religious and moral exemptions, under a law that expressly deals with requiring cost-free "preventive care and screenings" and leaving it to the federal agency to determine what is included.  Justice Thomas wrote that: "It was Congress, not the Department, that declined to expressly require that contraceptive coverage in the ACA itself."  The Court did not address whether the U.S. Religious Freedom Restoration Act requires the type of sweeping exemption the Administration put in place.  The Trump Administration had provided a blanket exemption from the coverage requirements for any employer, including for-profit and publicly traded corporations, that asserted religious or moral objections.  The ruling was 7-2, with only Justices Ginsberg and Sotomayor dissenting, arguing that the majority force women to pay the cost of their employers' religious beliefs.  
In another ruling affecting religious schools, the Court extended earlier Supreme Court rulings that shielded religious organizations from employment-discrimination claims about ministers, in a ruling that religious schools were immune from age and disability discrimination claims filed by lay teachers.  Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Beru and St. James School v. Biel.  In a third case during the prior week, the Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that a state could be required to give religious schools the same benefit it gives other private schools in a tax credit program.  
Many interpret the new rulings as adding to the suggestion that the Supreme Court's conservative majority is on occasion joined in by more liberal colleagues towards a framework that grants organizations more freedom in public policies they oppose on religious grounds.

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