Leading a coalition of 13 states, Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit defending employers’ right to an exemption from government mandates that violate their deeply held religious beliefs.
Ruling last January on a lawsuit brought by the State of California, a U.S. District Court issued a preliminary injunction against a Trump administration rule that allowed the Little Sisters of the Poor and similar religious employers to claim a religious exemption from the Obama-era U.S. Health and Human Services’ (HHS) so-called contraceptive mandate. The HHS mandate forces the Little Sisters to subsidize the provision of contraceptives to their employees, in violation of their religious beliefs. Failure to do so would subject such employers to millions of dollars in government fines.
In their friend-of-the-court brief, Attorney General Paxton and his counterparts demonstrate that federal agencies are required by law accommodate religious objectors when the agency imposes a substantial burden on religion. The Obama-era contraceptive mandate violates the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which Congress passed in 1993 and President Clinton signed into law. RFRA ensures that interests in religious freedom are protected.
“Federal law requires the government to respect the closely-held religious beliefs of its citizens, but the Obama-era contraceptive mandate is an assault on rights of conscience and religious liberty,” Attorney General Paxton said. “The Trump administration rule granting a religious exemption does nothing but protect the Little Sisters and other religious employers from being forced to provide services that would violate their religious or moral convictions, as the law requires.”
The Little Sisters, a Pennsylvania-based group of Catholic nuns who care for the elderly poor, have waged a long legal battle against the Obamacare mandate all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2016, the high court unanimously overturned lower court rulings against the Little Sisters and ordered the lower courts to allow the federal government time “to arrive at an approach going forward that accommodates the petitioners’ religious beliefs.” But California and Pennsylvania are both challenging the Little Sisters’ religious exemption from the Obamacare mandate, and Attorney General Paxton filed a brief last month in the Pennsylvania case.
Texas was joined in the friend-of-the-court brief filed this week with the 9th Circuit by Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and West Virginia. View a copy of the brief here.
Attorney General Paxton has consistently defended religious liberties. He filed an amicus brief on behalf of 20 states in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell on Aug. 24, 2015, and in Houston Baptist University v. Burwell on Aug. 10, 2015, along with 15 other states. In January 2016, he filed an amicus brief on behalf of 20 states with the U.S. Supreme Court in Zubik v. Burwell, supporting the religious nonprofit’s right to exercise sincerely-held religious beliefs.