U.S. District Judge Timothy M. Cain declined on Friday to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a married lesbian couple against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for exempting a Christian foster care agency in South Carolina from nondiscrimination rules. Miracle Hill Ministries in Greenville only places children with families that share its Biblical beliefs on sexuality and marriage. The Trump administration extended an exemption in November 2019 allowing religious adoption and foster care agencies to make such decisions. —S.W.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments over the phone on Wednesday in a case that could affect a wide range of religious nonprofit groups. A coalition of states has sued to take away a religious order’s exemption from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s contraceptive and abortifacient mandate. If the states prevail, the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious groups may have to cover such methods of birth control, which violate their religious convictions, in their employees’ insurance plans, or shut down.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who called in from the hospital where she was recovering from a gallstone, said several times during the session that the government had “tossed to the wind” the Affordable Care Act’s no-cost coverage for contraceptives for women.
Ginsburg and Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the Trump administration went too far by expanding to private employers the exemption given to churches with objections to contraception and abortion. Justice Clarence Thomas seemed in favor of upholding the exemption. Normally quiet during oral arguments, Thomas focused on whether the states had legal standing to challenge the exemption. He also questioned whether a U.S. District Court had the power to issue a nationwide injunction. Both Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Stephen Breyer seemed frustrated that the two sides couldn’t find a way to accommodate the rights of religious nonprofit organizations while ensuring that female employees had access to birth control.
All parties seem to agree on one thing, according to U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who said in closing: They want the court to “bring this litigation to a durable end.”
The justices likely will decide on the case by summer. —S.W.