Alvaré Comments on Issues of Religious Freedom

Commenting on lawsuits filed by Catholic and other entities pertaining to contraception coverage under health law reform regulations, Professor Helen Alvaré maintains the free exercise clause of the First Amendment does not apply in this instance.

Alvaré explains that the Supreme Court has ruled that statutes may breach religious freedom if a law is neutral with regard to religion and of general applicability. However, the Department of Health and Human Services regulations to implement the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act cannot be considered generally applied due to the numerous exemptions it claims, says Alvaré. 

Unless the Supreme Court strikes down the Affordable Care Act in its entirety during its current consideration of the law, Alvaré says she expects to see the lawsuits move forward, with appeals likely regardless of the initial rulings. 

Religious freedom issues at heart of HHS lawsuits, legal scholars say, Catholic Sentinel, May 29, 2012. By Catholic News Service.

"A second reason cited for the lawsuits is the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The law says that if the government is going to place a substantial burden on religious practice, the government must have a compelling interest to do so and must use the least restrictive means available.

"The HHS regulations do not meet that test, the scholars agreed.

"Finally, enforcing the regulations' narrow definition of religiously exempt entities would, Glendon said, require a searching government inquiry into what is and isn't religious activity, 'intruding into religious affairs in an unprecedented way.'"

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