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Reagan appointee: Religious groups have to sign HHS mandate paperwork

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NEW ORLEANS, LA, June 23, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Requiring religious employers to sign a form authorizing insurance companies to provide abortion-inducing drugs to women does not violate religious liberty, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled.

The 28-page opinion, authored by Reagan appointee Jerry Smith, affected more than half-a-dozen religiously-affiliated organizations whose cases were combined before the Court.

The plaintiffs -- University of Dallas, East Texas Baptist University, Houston Baptist University, Westminster Theological Seminary, the Catholic Diocese of Beaumont, and two divisions of Catholic Charities – lost their conscience-based appeal of ObamaCare's HHS mandate.

His action reversed a lower court ruling.

Generally, religious groups have argued that signing paperwork to shift coverage to insurance companies is tantamount to assisting in providing immoral insurance coverage. However, Smith wrote that this argument was invalid.

"Although the plaintiffs have identified several acts that offend their religious beliefs, the acts they are required to perform do not include providing or facilitating access to contraceptives," Smith wrote. "Instead, the acts that violate their faith are those of third parties. Because RFRA confers no right to challenge the independent conduct of third parties, we join our sister circuits in concluding that the plaintiffs have not shown a substantial burden on their religious exercise."

In the decision, Smith and his two fellow panel judges cited several Supreme Court precedents for their ruling. Additionally, they disputed the claim by the plaintiffs that signing paperwork to put the burden of providing coverage contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization on insurance companies was a burden on the plaintiffs.

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Smith warned that ruling for the religious groups "could subject a wide range of federal programs to strict scrutiny. Perhaps an applicant for Social Security disability benefits disapproves of working on Sundays and is unwilling to assist others in doing so. He could challenge a requirement that he use a form to apply because the Social Security Administration might process it on a Sunday. Or maybe a pacifist refuses to complete a form to indicate his beliefs because that information would enable the Selective Service to locate eligible draftees more quickly. The possibilities are endless, but we doubt Congress, in enacting RFRA, intended for them to be."

The 5th Circuit panel is just the latest to rule against religious organizations. While the Supreme Court ruled that the mandate did not apply to closely-held corporations whose owners have sincere religious objections, it never answered the question of how the mandate would apply to religious non-profits.

All circuit panels have ruled for the mandate, though one also prevented Priests for Life from being forced to pay for it until the appeals process to the U.S. Supreme Court has been completed. Such an appeal is made more difficult because there is not a split among the circuit courts.

Nothing in Smith's ruling acknowledged that the mandate requires coverage of abortifacients.

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