An appeals court has once again told the University of Notre Dame that their religious freedom is not being compromised by the fact that they have to fill out a two-page form to get out of covering birth control. The Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled yesterday that the Obama Administration wasn’t forcing the university to violate their religious beliefs.
As a religious nonprofit, Notre Dame doesn’t have to cover birth control — they can opt out by signing a form, and the insurer covers it directly, without the institution having to sully their hands. But Notre Dame has argued that having to fill out a form declaring their objection to covering birth control infringes on their religious liberty.
The Seventh Circuit ruled last year that the two-page form wasn’t a violation of religious freedom. Notre Dame appealed, and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court before ping-ponging right back down to the Seventh Circuit who — surprise — ruled again that the form is just fine.
In a 50-page 2-1 ruling, the Seventh Circuit said the Obama administration had come up with a reasonable accommodation for contraception-averse religious institutions. Judge Richard Posner wrote, in a lightly sarcastic opinion, that Notre Dame had already signed the form by the time that they first appeared at the Seventh Circuit, and it wasn’t quite clear what they wanted the judges to... do.
Now, he says, he sort of gets it. Sort of.
Our previous opinion had expressed puzzlement about what exactly the university wanted us to enjoin. It had by that time signed EBSA Form 700 and sent copies to Aetna and Meritain, thus obtaining the statutory accommodation, and the companies had notified Notre Dame’s employees and students that they (the company, not the university) would be providing contraceptive coverage.
We now have (we think) a clearer idea of what the university wants. It wants us to enjoin the government from forbidding Notre Dame to bar Aetna and Meritain from providing contraceptive coverage to any of the university’s students or employees. Because of its contractual relations with the two companies, which continue to provide health insurance coverage and administration for medical services apart from contraception as a method of preventing pregnancy, Notre Dame claims to be complicit in the sin of contraception. It wants to dissolve that complicity by forbidding Aetna and Mertain — with both of which, to repeat, it continues to have contractual relations — to provide any contraceptive coverage to Notre Dame students or staff. The result would be that the students and staff currently lacking coverage other than from Aetna or Meritain would have to fend for themselves, seeking contraceptive coverage elsewhere in the health insurance market.
So, for the hundredth time, Notre Dame, letting your insurance company cover birth control without your involvement doesn’t trample your religious rights. But what a great use of God knows how much money and how many billable hours to your attorneys. Great. Great job.
Notre Dame Library’s “Touchdown Jesus.” Image via Getty