New York Archdiocese Wins Ruling on Contraception

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York was granted a federal injunction on Monday that blocks an Obama administration requirement to provide contraceptive care to employees at its nonprofit affiliates.

The ruling found that the regulation violated the religious freedom of the four nonprofit groups — two high schools and two health care systems — that are affiliated with the archdiocese but employ people of any faith. Under the Affordable Care Act, the nonprofit groups were required to provide the contraceptive coverage, authorize a third party to voluntarily pay for and provide the coverage, or pay steep fines.

The ruling, by Brian M. Cogan of Federal District Court in Brooklyn, found that forcing the groups to authorize a third party to provide contraceptive care still violated their religious beliefs even if they were not financially support contraception. Churches are already exempt from the mandate to provide contraceptive care.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, the federal government issued a rule that requires health plans to cover contraception without a co-pay. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 88 cases have been filed challenging the rule as an infringement on religious liberty. Seventy-five of these cases are pending: 29 cases brought by nonprofit organizations, 43 cases brought by for-profit companies and three cases brought by both nonprofit and for-profit plaintiffs.

Judge Cogan’s decision was the first permanent injunction against the regulations. A temporary injunction was issued in favor of a nonprofit Catholic organization in Pennsylvania.

The Archdiocese of New York, which sued along with the schools and hospitals, hailed the decision as a victory.

“The court has correctly cut through the artificial construct which essentially made faith-based organizations other than churches and other houses of worship second-class citizens with second-class First Amendment protections,” Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said in a statement.

The Justice Department, which argued the case for the Obama administration, can appeal the decision. Lawyers for the department declined to comment.

A lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed an amicus brief in support of the government regulations, said the regulations did not pose an undue burden on the groups.

“While religious liberty is fundamental, it does not give employers the right to impose their beliefs on employees by denying contraceptive coverage and discriminating against their women employees,” said Jennifer Lee, a lawyer with the group.