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Media Alerts - Eternal Word Television Network v. Alabama-11th Circuit
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April 7, 2016
  Eternal Word Television Network v. Alabama-11th Circuit
Headline: Eleventh Circuit holds that the accommodation for the Affordable Care Act's ("ACA") contraceptive mandate does not violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA").

Area of Law: Constitutional Law

Issue: Whether the government imposes an undue burden on nonprofit organizations with a religious objection to providing contraceptive coverage by requiring them to opt out of ACA's contraceptive mandate.

Brief Summary: In three consolidated cases, Eternal Word Television Network, Inc. ("EWTN") and other nonprofit organizations with religious objections to providing contraceptive coverage to employees, challenged ACA's accommodations that required them to opt out of ACA's contraceptive mandate. The Eleventh Circuit found that ACA's accommodation does not substantially burden EWTN's rights because (1) the government has a compelling interest that justifies the accommodation, and (2) the accommodation is the least restrictive means of furthering those interests.

Extended Summary: EWTN and the Secretary of the United States Department of Health & Human Services ("HHS") filed cross-motions for summary judgment, with EWTN claiming that ACA's accommodation violated RFRA, the Free Exercise Clause, the Establishment Clause, and the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. The district court denied EWTN's motion, but granted the government's motion, and both parties filed appeals. In the other two cases, the district court granted a group of Catholic entities' summary judgment motions on the claim that the accommodation violated RFRA. The government appealed.

The Eleventh Circuit found that the mandate and accommodation did not violate RFRA because the accommodation survives strict scrutiny. This determination also disposed of the Free Speech claim. The court also rejected the Free Exercise claim, because the mandate was facially neutral and the government's legitimate interest was rationally related to the mandate. Additionally, the court determined that, since the accommodation distinguishes on the basis of tax status rather than religious denomination, it did not violate the Establishment Clause. The Eleventh Circuit stayed enforcement of the mandate, noting the presence of several cases currently pending before the United States Supreme Court on this issue.

Judge Tjoflat dissented based on his determinations that the regulatory scheme imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of the parties and that it does not survive strict scrutiny.

To view the full opinion please click here

Panel: Tjoflat, Jill Pryor and Anderson, Circuit Judges

Argument: February 4, 2015

Date of Issued Opinion: February 18, 2016

Docket Numbers: 14-12696, 14-12890, 14-13239

Decided: Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded

Case Alert Author: Matthew Carcano, Kevin Coppin, Oscar Quintero, Kielan Saborit

Lori Halstead Windham for Appellant EWTN
Joshua Marc Salzman for Appellant/Appellee U.S. Dep't of Health et al.
Janine Cone Metcalf for Appellee The Roman Catholic Archdiocese

Author of Opinion: Circuit Judge Jill Pryor

    Posted By: Gary Kravitz @ 04/07/2016 03:24 PM     11th Circuit  

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