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What new decisions say about the Supreme Court’s view of religious freedom

The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld Trump administration rules that limit birth control coverage under Obamacare -- the third time justices have considered whether some employers could opt out of that coverage based on their beliefs. As the court wraps up its final week of the current session, Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal joins John Yang for a closer look.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The U.S. Supreme Court is wrapping up the final week of its session and today revisited the dispute over coverage of women's access to birth control under the Affordable Care Act.

    As John Yang reports, it's familiar ground for the justices.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, this was the third time the court considered the question of whether some employers could opt out of the birth control coverage because of their beliefs.

    Marcia Coyle is the chief Washington correspondent for "The National Law Journal."

    Marcia, what did the court decide in this case today?

  • Marcia Coyle:

    John, the court, in a 7-2 ruling written by Just Clarence Thomas, decided that the Trump administration had legal authority to issue rules, new rules — actually, they date back to 2017 — that expanded an exemption for religious groups from the birth control coverage requirement.

    The expanded rules would allow religious objections, as well as moral on objections, and would cover just about every nongovernmental employer in the United States, allowing them to opt out of that coverage as well.

  • John Yang:

    So, in this final two weeks, we now know is the final two weeks of this court's term, they have had three decisions dealing with religious freedom, this one today on birth control coverage, another one today, in which they said essentially that church-run schools don't have to worry about anti-discrimination claims when they deal with teachers who teach their faith.

    And then, last week, a decision in which they said that Montana could not exclude a school from a scholarship program simply because that school was church-run.

    So, what does this tell us? Take these three things, three decisions, cases together. What does this tell us about where this court is on the question of religious freedom?

  • Marcia Coyle:

    John, I think it's a continuation of a trend in the Roberts court since at least 2005, when Chief Justice John Roberts took the middle seat on the bench.

    The court appears, in most of its decisions, to favor those who are claiming religious discrimination either by a state statute, like last week's decision, or a state constitution, like last week's decision in Montana, or, as the Little Sisters of the Poor case here involving the accommodation for religious and moral objections.

    So, again, it's a continuation of a trend. And if the person bringing the case is claiming in particular that his or her free exercise of religion under the First Amendment is being violated, the court appears to be favoring those claims with a very strong belief in the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.

  • John Yang:

    A little personnel and medical call note. We learned that Chief Justice John Roberts, two-and-a-half weeks ago, was taken to the hospital after falling and cutting his head.

    We — this court only announced this because The Washington Post asked them, after they got a tip about this. What do you make of this?

  • Marcia Coyle:

    It looks as though at least the court said that the chief justice was suffering from dehydration, and he became dizzy, and that's how he fell.

    I should say, too, that, in 1993, I believe, and 2007, he suffered benign ischemic strokes, which means there really was no reason for — or seizures, not strokes, seizures — that also caused him to fall and — pass out and fall.

    So, we have to take the court at its word. And, certainly, the court was relaying whatever the chief justice said was the cause of the problem.

    But it is unfortunate that it takes a tip to a newspaper, which then has to go to the court's information office, to find out something as important as a justice going to the hospital.

  • John Yang:

    Marcia Coyle of "The National Law Journal," thanks so much.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    My pleasure, John.

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