Attorney General Ken Paxton today led 16 states in filing a friend-of-the-court brief with the United States Supreme Court supporting the Little Sisters of the Poor’s right to an exemption from the Obama-era U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ contraceptive mandate, which required employers to offer insurance coverage for contraceptives. After years of litigation over the Obama-era mandate, the Trump administration issued a rule that allowed the Little Sisters and similar religious employers to claim a religious exemption from the mandate. Last January, a U.S. District Court issued a preliminary injunction against the Trump rule.
The Little Sisters, a Pennsylvania-based group of Catholic nuns who care for the elderly poor, defied the Obamacare mandate to subsidize the provision of contraceptives to their employees and have waged a years-long battle against the Obamacare mandate all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overturned lower court rulings against the Little Sisters; however, California and Pennsylvania both challenged the Little Sisters’ religious exemption from the Obamacare mandate under the Trump administration rule. According to the mandate, if the Little Sisters do not provide contraceptive coverage to employees, they will be required to pay thousands of dollars in government fines.
“The Trump administration correctly granted a religious exemption that was absolutely necessary to protect the Little Sisters and others like them from being forced to violate their deeply-held religious and moral convictions,” said Attorney General Paxton. “To deny this exemption is an assault on religious liberty and rights of conscience. Federal law requires the government to respect religious beliefs, and this case is no exception.”
As stated in the brief, federal agencies must accommodate religious objectors when their regulations impose a substantial burden on religion. The Obama-era contraceptive mandate violates the federal Religious Freedoms Restoration Act (RFRA), which Congress passed in 1993 and President Clinton signed into law. RFRA protects the religious liberty of individuals and entities from interference by the federal government.
Texas is joined in the friend-of-the-court brief by Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia.
To view a copy of today’s amicus brief, click here.