Supreme Court Hears Zubik v. Burwell Religious Freedom Case

Last month, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights joined the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, and National Urban League in filing an amicus brief in the Zubik v. Burwell Supreme Court case.

The Zubik case, which challenges whether a one page opt-out form or an “accommodation” under the Health and Human Services (HHS) contraceptive coverage mandate in the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA) violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by imposing a substantial burden on an organization’s ability to exercise religious beliefs is being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court today.

As noted in the brief, “HHS has emphasized the importance of including contraception in the designated list of preventative services, not only to equalize women’s health care costs but also to help women become equal participants in society.”

The brief continues, “The Leadership Conference… believes that the core values of religious freedom and legal and social equality are not incompatible; rather, this national must stand united in ensuring religious liberty while continuing to work together to dismantle institutionalized discrimination.”

Zubik differs from the Supreme Court case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2014) because, “the nonprofits are seeking an ‘exemption’ from the rule, meaning their workers would not have coverage for some or all contraceptives, rather than an ‘accommodation,’ which entitles their workers to full contraceptive coverage but releases the employer from paying for it,” write Laurie Sobel and Alina Salganicoff with The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, “The removal of financial barriers is designed to help individuals stay healthy and address problems before they become untreatable.” If the Supreme Court were to rule in favor of the Zubik plaintiffs, women employed by objecting employers would face these costs on their own, which could prevent low-income women from accessing birth control.

In advance of the Zubik argument, The Leadership Conference Education Fund released an update to its recent report, “Striking a Balance: Advancing Civil and Human Rights While Preserving Religious Liberty,” which documents how religious arguments have been used to justify discrimination against diverse communities including opposing the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage and equality, racial integration, inter-racial marriage, immigration, the Americans with Disabilities Act, same-sex marriage, and the right to collectively bargain. Read the report here.