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Circuit Split Looms Over Birth Control Mandate

There is now a circuit split over whether President Obama's administrative accommodation for charities and nonprofits--who object to the mandate that health insurance cover birth control--impinges on their religious beliefs. SCOTUSBlog's Lyle Denniston reports that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled that merely notifying the government of their objection would trigger the coverage in their health insurance plans and violate their religious beliefs. But six other circuit courts have ruled in favor of the administrative process. A circuit split makes it more likely the Supreme Court will take up the case.

The nonprofits oppose the birth control mandate because they oppose abortion and some of them consider some birth-control methods to be "abortion on demand," Denniston reports.


Citing 'God's Authority' Shaky Ground to Not Obey the Law, Experts Say

When Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis went to jail rather than issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, her argument that doing so would violate her religious beliefs highlighted the issue of whether people must obey the law and go against their religious faith.

The Washington Post's Robert Barnes and Katie Zezima report that legal experts said that Davis was on shaky ground in citing her religious beliefs when she was a public official pledged to uphold the law. No U.S. Supreme Court justice signaled disagreement with the decision not to take up Davis' appeal when she stopped issuing marriage licenses to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

Richard Garnett, a Notre Dame law professor who specializes in religion and the law, told the Post that appeals to morality are hard for a judge to assess considering same-sex couples feel that it is moral to have access to the right to marriage and religious opponents feel that it is immoral to allow same-sex matrimony.

SCOTUS: Kentucky Clerk Must Issue Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected an emergency application by a Kentucky clerk against having to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of her religious objections, CNN's Ariane de Vogue and Jeremy Diamond report. The high court refused to stop a lower court ruling while clerk Kim Davis' appeal is pending.

Davis' lawyers argued that her "'conscience forbids her from approving a (same-sex marriage) license -- because the prescribed form mandates that she authorize the proposed union and issue a license bearing her own name and imprimatur."'

Next Frontier in LGBT Rights: Fighting Bias in Jobs and Housing

The next frontier in civil rights for LGBT Americans will be fighting bias in jobs and housing, The New York Times' Erik Eckholm reports. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized the right to marry as a civil right for gays and lesbians, many gay civil rights leaders are turning their attention to getting legal protections from discrimination by employers and in housing. The majority of states don't bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. However, religious conservatives are concerned that such laws will be used to force people to violate their religious beliefs, such as having to hire gays and lesbians in church-related jobs, Eckholm reports. Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat representing Oregon, said he planned to introduce a bill within the next few months to add protections for gays and transgender people to the Civil Rights Act, but he is not hopeful the bill will pass in the Republican-controlled Senate. He told Eckholm, "'People are going to realize that you can get married in the morning and be fired from your job or refused entry to a restaurant in the afternoon. That is unacceptable.”'

Arkansas and Indiana Governors Sign Religious Freedom Redos

The tension between the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to be protected against discrimination and the right to religious freedom to express condemnation of LGBT people has come to the forefront this week. Indiana Governor Mike Pence and Arkanas Governor Asa Hutchinson have both signed compromise bills that backed off some of the most overt discriminatory impacts of new religious freedom laws in those states.

Pence first signed a law that inspired Connecticut's and New York's governors to ban unnecessary government travel to Indiana and the Angie's List CEO to put an expansion in Indianapolis on hold. About a week later, Pence signed a revision that "eliminates the potential erosion of LGBT protections in communities, including Indianapolis, that have local anti-discrimination ordinances protecting sexual orientation and gender identity," the Indianapolis Star's Tom LoBianco and Tony Cook report. Discrimination against gays and lesbians is not expressly prohibited in the rest of the state, they report.

Hutchinson signed a compromise bill that mirrors the language of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Spencer Williams reports. Another bill rejected by Hutchinson would have provided legal protection even when there was no government action or law. Under the law signed by Hutchinson, "neither state nor local laws or policies can infringe on one's beliefs unless the government can demonstrate that it has a 'compelling' interest and that it is using that 'least restrictive' means to achieve it," Williams reports.

Indiana Passes Bill Allowing Businesses to Deny Services to Gays

Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed a law yesterday allowing businesses to deny services to gays on the grounds of religious freedom, Reuters' Mary Wisniewski reports. LGBT-rights groups are concerned that the law will be used by businesses that do not want to provide services for same-sex weddings. Proponents of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act said it will allow business owners of all faiths to protect against being forced to act against their strongly held religious beliefs.

Governor Signs Bill Allowing Court Clerks to Opt Out From Same-Sex Marriage

Utah has enacted a law that allows county clerks to opt out of performing same-sex marriage on religious grounds as long as somene else in their office is willing to perform them, reports Fox 13, the affiliate in Salt Lake City: "The bill was an attempt to address religious objections over same-sex marriage, while also guaranteeing what the courts had ordered when it legalized such unions last year."

Florist's Refusal to Prepare Blooms for Same-Same Marriage Illegal, Judge Rules

A Washington state judge has ruled that a florist violated that state's consumer protection law when she refused to sell flowers for a same-sex marriage, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Joel Connelly reports. Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom said that, despite the florist's religious beliefs, "'in trade and commerce, and more particularly when seeking to prevent discrimination in public accommodations, the Courts have confirmed the power of the Legislative Branch to prohibit conduct it deems discriminatory even where the motivation for that conduct is grounded in religious belief.'"

Third Circuit Upholds Religious Exception from Contraceptive Mandate

The Third Circuit has ruled that the religious exception from the mandate that all health insurance plans cover contraception is fair, The Legal Intelligencer's Saranac Hale Spencer reports. The accommodation for nonprofit religious organizations requires a head of a religious nonprofit to submit a self-certification to insurers that it will be claiming the exception so that the insurer, not the employer, is paying for the contraceptive portion of insurance coverage. The challengers argued "the act of sending the notification to the insurance company makes them complicit in providing the contraceptive services to which they object, which qualifies as a substantial burden under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act," but the appellate panel reasoned that "'the regulatory notice requirement does not necessitate any action that interferes with the appellees' religious activities,'" Spencer reports.

Supreme Court Strikes Down Contraception Mandate For Closely Held Corporations

The U.S. Supreme Court, 5-4, ruled that closely owned corporations can't be forced to pay for insurance coverage for contraception under Obamacare, the New York Times' Adam Liptak reports. Conestoga Wood Specialties, a cabinet maker, and Hobby Lobby, a chain of craft stores, challenged that part of the health law on the grounds that it violates their Christian beliefs. The Supreme Court found that, under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the mandate was a substantial burden on the corporations' religious liberty. Even if the government has a compelling interest in ensuring women's access to contraception, the current mechanism of the mandate is not the "least restrictive means of serving that interest," the majority's author, Justice Samuel Alito, wrote.


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