The Catholic University of America



Movement in the Affordable Care Act Battle
Keeps Debate Alive for Professor Mark Rienzi

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The Supreme Court’s verdict last June that the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act was constitutional settled one aspect of the legal debate about it, but at least one controversial question may be revisited.

Religiously-affiliated employers have forcefully objected from the outset to actions by the government under the law to force employers to offer their workforce free preventive health services, including contraceptives, without a co-pay. They argue the mandate is a direct assault on religious belief and religious freedom.
On Nov. 26, the Supreme Court directed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to hear a case brought by Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. that challenges some aspects of the Act on religious liberty grounds. The move could eventually bring the Act before the high court.

Two days later, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit by the Pittsburgh Catholic diocese over the health care mandate’s contraceptive provision, finding that the suit was brought too soon. Last week, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals entered an injunction to protect a for-profit business owner from being forced to pay for drugs that violate his religious beliefs.

Such developments along this legal front are one reason Catholic University law school Professor Mark Rienzi continues to engage in public debate at every opportunity in about the constitutionality of this particular provision of the Affordable Care Act. 

On Nov. 27 Rienzi debated the question with an ACLU attorney at the University of Baltimore’s School of Law (left), reiterating key points he has made numerous times, both in open debates and in published editorial columns. 
Rienzi argues that contraception is widely available and affordable and that forcing employers who have religious or moral objections to pay for it through their health plans amounts to an unconstitutional disregard for their beliefs. 

"Federal law requires that the government avoid forcing someone to violate his or her religious beliefs unless absolutely necessary," Rienzi argued. "In a religiously diverse and pluralistic country, that's a good rule - and it was put in place by folks like Ted Kennedy and Bill Clinton, so it is not just a conservative or Republican principle. The government cannot come close to carrying its burden here for drugs that are widely available from willing sources and already provided by the government in other contexts."
As senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Rienzi is currently litigating several constitutional cases across the country, including numerous challenges to the contraceptive mandate, a First Amendment challenge to a Massachusetts abortion clinic buffer zone law, religious liberty challenges to regulations that would force pharmacists out of business unless they dispense the morning after pill, and several cases challenging speech regulations directed at pro-life pregnancy centers.