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Business can’t dodge ACA on religious grounds

by on
in Employment Law,Human Resources

Litigation over the legality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) health care reform law didn’t end last year when the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed its constitutionality.

According to a database maintained by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which opposes the ACA, private employers have filed 37 lawsuits objecting to parts of the law that require health insurance plans to cover a wide range of contraceptives as part of women’s preventive health care.

The plaintiffs argue that the require­­ment violates their First Amend­­ment rights and various laws that ensure freedom of religion.

Now a panel of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has tossed out one of the first of those suits to be adjudicated, ruling that a corporation can’t object to the law on moral grounds.

Recent case: Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania corporation, sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services because its Mennonite owners object to ACA provisions requiring insurance plans to cover contraception. The owners alleged the law interferes with the right to freely exercise their religion.

The 3rd Circuit rejected that argument, distinguishing between the owners and the corporation. “We simply conclude that the law has long recognized the distinction between the owners of a corporation and the corporation itself,” the court wrote. It said the owners have the right to practice their religion as they see fit. However, a corporation has no such rights.

The court said Conestoga must comply with the ACA. (Conestoga Wood Specialties, et al., v. Sibelius, et al., No. 13-1144, 3rd Cir., 2013)

Conestoga immediately appealed the decision, asking the full 3rd Circuit to take up the case. On Aug. 19, the circuit declined.

Note: For now, this case only affects employers in 3rd Circuit states: Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. However, that could change. Next stop: A likely appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. If it accepts the case and then upholds the 3rd Circuit’s decision, it could become the law of the land.

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