Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Marty Lederman on Little Sisters of the Poor

Marty Lederman on Balkinization provides an excellent elaboration of the argument I made in my previous post regarding the slippery slope that follows from the argument that a non-profit group "triggers" morally objectionable contraceptive coverage merely by signing an opt-out notice:

. . . [T]he whole point of the government's "secondary" accommodation is to allow nonprofits such as Notre Dame to refuse to “contract, arrange, pay, or refer for contraceptive coverage,” even if they do offer health insurance.
Why isn't that enough to alleviate any possible, alleged burden on Notre Dame's religious exercise?

i.  Notre Dame's principal argument is that by filing a certification asserting that it opposes contraceptive coverage, as the HHS Rule requires, it would thereby "authorize" third parties--Aetna and Meritain Health, Inc.--to provide such coverage, and thereby become morally responsible for the use of the contraceptives subsidized by those other parties.

This argument, however, is premised on a simple mistake of fact and law (not religious doctrine):  The self-certification Notre Dame would sign--substantively identical to the assertions of objection that it makes in its very RFRA complaint--merely notifies the relevant third parties that Notre Dame is eligible for and exercising the available religious accommodation because it objects to providing contraceptive coverage.  By certifying, Notre Dame would not "authorize" anything:  Federal law does that work.  As the district court explained, “[i]f Notre Dame opts out of providing contraceptive coverage, as it always has and likely would going forward, it is the government who will authorize the third party to pay for contraception.” 

Of course, Notre Dame is correct that its certification of religious objection would have a legal effect:  As with any religious accommodation of this kind, the whole point of the accommodation is that the opting out by the objector would shift the responsibility to someone else (whether a state actor or, as here, another private party) to do what the religious objector declines to do.  But if that is enough to establish a substantial burden on Notre Dame's religious exercise, then it would effectively mean that governmental religious accommodations taking the form of "opt outs" for dissenters would themselves often create the very conflict with religion that they are designed to alleviate--and would thus threaten to prevent the state from both accommodating religion and satisfying its state interests through an alternative means, such as the use of a non-objecting party.  

For example, take a law that permits individual religious pharmacists to refuse to dispense certain drugs, and that provides that in such a case the drugs shall be dispensed by a nonobjecting pharmacist.  Under Notre Dame's theory, the first pharmacist could object to the accommodation--and insist that customers not receive the drug at all--because its refusal to dispense would "trigger," or "authorize," the second pharmacist to commit a morally objectionable act. . . .

Contraception, Religion and Reproductive Rights, Supreme Court | Permalink

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