8th Circuit Court Rules For Religious Liberty

Bucking the trend set by other federal circuit courts, a unanimous panel of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week in favor of religious organizations Heartland Christian College and CNS Ministries in their challenge to the HHS contraceptive mandate.

The court ruled that compelling participation in the mandate by threat of severe financial penalty is a substantial burden on their free exercise of religion, and forcing them to comply with the accommodation regulation offered by the Department of Health and Human Services was not the least restrictive means for the government to accomplish its objective of providing contraceptive coverage.

The ruling sets up a conflict with other appellate court rulings, which will require resolution by the U.S. Supreme Court.  The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, for example, ruled earlier this summer that the mandate, and the HHS accommodation, did not excessively burden the religious liberty of the Little Sisters of the Poor.  That case was appealed to the Supreme Court.

Last week’s 8th Circuit Court decision makes it more likely the Supreme Court will resolve the issue next term.

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