A federal judge in New York has issued the first permanent injunction against the federal contraception mandate, a ruling that religious freedom advocates are praising as a major victory.
“There is no way that a court can, or should, determine that a coerced
violation of conscience is of insufficient quantum to merit
constitutional protection,” wrote Judge Brian Cogan of the Federal
District Court in Brooklyn in a Dec. 16 ruling.
He explained that the controversial mandate “burdens plaintiffs’
religion by coercing them into authorizing third parties to provide this
coverage through the self-certification requirement, an act forbidden
by plaintiffs’ religion.”
Judge Cogan issued the ruling in a case brought by the Catholic
archdioceses of New York and Rockville Centre, as well as associated
Catholic institutions within the archdioceses. The lawsuit challenged
the federal contraception mandate, arguing that it amounts to an
unconstitutional violation of religious freedom.
The mandate, issued as a directive under the Affordable Care Act,
requires employers to offer health insurance plans covering
contraceptives, sterilization, and some products that may cause early
In his ruling, Cogan dismissed the complaints of the archdioceses
themselves, because they are already exempt from the mandate in its
finalized form, which was released by the Obama administration after an
extensive revision process.
However, he granted permanent injunctive relief to the remaining
plaintiffs that were not already exempt: Cardinal Spellman High School,
Monsignor Farrell High School, Catholic Health Care System – or ArchCare
– and Catholic Health Services of Long Island. The injunction protects
the organizations from the demands of the mandate and from the penalties
for failing to comply with it.
This marks the first time a judge has granted a permanent injunction in a
case challenging the mandate, although other institutions have received
temporary injunctions. Some 89 cases against the federal regulation
have been filed by a total of nearly 300 plaintiffs across the country.
Many are still working their way through the court system.
Court has announced that it will hear a challenge to the mandate brought
by two for-profit business owners, with a ruling expected next summer.
In the New York case, the federal government argued that it had
adequately provided for the religious freedom of the organizations
through an “accommodation” offered to non-exempt religious employers,
whereby they would act to trigger a third-party administration to
provide the coverage. The plaintiffs argued that the plan still required
them to facilitate the coverage that they found morally objectionable.
In his ruling, Cogan commented that despite the accommodation, the
Catholic organizations faced “substantial” burdens on their religious
beliefs and “coercive pressure” to comply with the mandate. He noted
that the institutions were given the options of violating their
religious beliefs or paying thousands of dollars per employee per year
The judge rejected the Department of Health and Human Services’ claim
that there is no viable alternative to the mandate in providing access
to contraceptives and related products.
Rather, he stated, “numerous
less restrictive alternatives are readily apparent,” such as the
government directly providing contraceptives to individuals.
“It would set a dangerous precedent to hold that if the Executive Branch
cannot act unilaterally, then there is no alternative solution,” Cogan
commented, adding that “Congress may pass appropriate legislation” if
the Executive Branch is unable to create an alternative on its own.
He also rejected the argument that alternatives to the federal mandate
would be less effective or too burdensome on women. If such alternatives
“only entail filling out a form,” he suggested as an example, the
“burden of filling out that form should fall on those who have no
religious objection to doing so.”
Joseph Zwilling, communications director for the Archdiocese of New York, welcomed the ruling in a Dec. 16 statement.
“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,” he said.
“Religious freedom is our ‘First Freedom,’ guaranteed in the
Constitution of the United States,” he confirmed, adding that the
decision reiterates that freedom of religion is not merely the freedom
to worship, but also “must include how we act in accord with our