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The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals says it won’t strike down the federal health insurance contraceptive mandate because of objections by the Michigan Catholic Conference and other religion-related groups.

The state’s Catholic Conference, the Catholic Charities Diocese of Kalamazoo and several Tennessee Catholic nonprofits argued the federal Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate violated their rights under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In a ruling released Friday, a panel of three appeals court judges upheld their original decision to reject the claims after reviewing the 2014 Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby case, which held the contraception mandate imposed “a substantial burden” on the exercise of the religious beliefs of company owners.

“But that issue is fundamentally different from the issue at the heart of this case — whether an entity’s decision not to provide such coverage by exercising an accommodation (of federal law) is, by itself, a violation of that entity’s religious beliefs,” wrote Judge Karen Nelson Moore for the 6th Circuit panel.

The Michigan Catholic Conference and other groups argued religious rights were violated by the accommodation rule, which allows religious groups to avoid paying for contraceptive services to which they object, but still requires insurance carriers to provide the services to employees.

But the Hobby Lobby ruling doesn’t apply to the Michigan Catholic Conference or the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville, Tennessee, because they are religious employers who can seek an exemption under the law, according to the appeals court panel.

The Hobby Lobby precedent also doesn’t apply to the Catholic Charities Diocese of Kalamazoo because it is not being required to pay for contraceptive services under the accommodation rule, the appeals court held.

The U.S. Supreme Court discussed the contraception mandate’s accommodation rule in a favorable manner in the Hobby Lobby case, according to the 6th Circuit’s decision. In addition, the High Court noted its ruling was “very specific” to companies, the appeals court panel said.

The panel argued that every other appeals circuit that has heard similar cases has come to the same conclusion.

“If the substantiality of a burden were to turn on the ‘moral or theological consequences’ of Plaintiffs’ religious beliefs, then the substantial-burden analysis would not be much of an analysis at all,” Nelson Moore wrote. “Indeed, every party alleging a RFRA violation could state that their religious beliefs were being burdened and that the burden was substantial. This was not Congress’ intent when it drafted RFRA, nor have we found any case law to support this interpretation.”

kbouffard@detroitnews.com

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