That last summer's decision in Hobby Lobby wasn't the end of the legal fight over what health care coverage the government could require businesses asserting religious objections to provide for their employees became clear just three days after the Hobby Lobby was handed down. In a brief order that drew a sharp dissent from three justices, the Court enjoined enforcement of the government's procedure for accommodating colleges with religious objections to contraception coverage — even though the Court majority had, in Hobby Lobby, appeared to endorse that very procedure. (For our previous coverage of Hobby Lobby, including the work-around the Court seemed to endorse, see here. For the order three days later enjoining the accommodation, in Wheaton College v. Burwell, see here.)
Last week, in Geneva College v. Sec'y of HHS, the Third Circuit addressed on the merits the argument raised in preliminary form before the Supreme Court in Wheaton College: that even filing a form to opt out of contraception coverage is a burden on the rights of an employer with religious objections to contraception coverage. The rationale is that the opt-out form is the "trigger" for employees to obtain coverage that the employer opposes for religious reasons (or, as the religious entities put it at oral argument, that "the accommodation requires them to be 'complicit' in sin"). In a case that drew significant amicus participation from government, religious and civil-liberties organizations, the Third Circuit rejected the religious school's argument, holding that filling out the exemption form simply doesn't burden the rights of the religious.
Although the court did not question the sincerity of the beliefs asserted, it nonetheless found itself obligated to assess objectively the effect of the accommodation procedure on those beliefs. Distinguishing Hobby Lobby, in which the challenged regulations required the plaintiffs to pay for the coverage to which they objected, the court held that filling out a form did not trigger the coverage. Rather, the coverage came about through the operation of federal law. “[S]ubmitting the self-certification form means only that the eligible organization is not providing contraceptive coverage and will not be subjected to penalties," the court explained. You can read the full opinion here.
Giving the court's order last summer in Wheaton College, I doubt this is the last we'll hear of this dispute over the scope of Obamacare. Stay tuned.