Supreme Court remands birth control mandate challenge to lower appeals court

The Supreme Court on Monday breathed new life into a Catholic organization's legal challenges to the government's birth control mandate when it passed the case back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati.

But in taking a pass from deciding the Michigan Catholic Conference v. Burwell case, the Highest Court also urged the appeals court to consider its 2014 landmark decision awarding Hobby Lobby an exemption from the contraception mandate on the basis of religious freedom. Monday's decision is reportedly the sixth time the Supreme Court has passed on making a judgment about the controversial Affordable Care Act provision, remanding challenges each time to lower courts. Government lawyers in late March urged the High Court to pass on deciding the case.

Federal appeals courts have not been friendly to nonprofit religious organizations' ACA challenges, none of which have prevailed on the basis that the contraception mandate violates their religious freedoms, according to published reports.

Mark Rienzi, senior counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Washington, told Bloomberg News the court's action sends “a strong signal that the Supreme Court will ultimately reject the government's narrow view of religious liberty.”

Contraception mandates have been widely opposed by many faith-based organizations, including those among long-term care operators, on the grounds they conflict with their values and religious freedoms.