Appeals court says government cannot make Catholic doctors perform gender-transitioning in religious freedom win

by mcardinal

Lauren C. Moye, FISM News


In a religious freedom win, a federal appeals court sided with Catholic doctors who opposed a “transgender mandate” requiring the healthcare providers to perform gender-transition procedures in violation of their religious convictions.

The three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a permanent injunction against the federal requirement on Friday, providing relief to the plaintiffs, which include the Religious Sisters of Mercy among a coalition of other Catholic-affiliated healthcare and insurance providers.

The case stems from a May 2016 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulation that added gender identity and sexual orientation to the protected classes. This rule was then used to try to force the Religious Sisters of Mercy and other Catholic healthcare providers to provide gender reassignment treatments despite their religious beliefs and medical judgment against this procedure.

The appellate ruling was authored by Chief judge Lavenski R. Smith, who wrote that the plaintiffs believed genital-mutilation surgeries would “violate their medical judgment by potentially causing harm to patients” because the plaintiffs believed every man and woman “reflect God’s image in unique – and uniquely dignified – ways.”

The judges agreed with an earlier decision on the case and “therefore conclude that the district court correctly held that intrusion upon the Catholic Plaintiffs’ exercise of religion is sufficient to show irreparable harm.”

Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court’s grant of permanent injunctive relief to the Catholic Benefits Association, the umbrella organization containing several plaintiffs in the case.

The Biden administration will have 60 days to ask the 8th Circuit to rehear the case. They can file an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court within 90 days of the decision.

The path to this decision has not been straightforward, although the courts have fairly consistently upheld the plaintiffs’ right to exercise their religious convictions in choosing which services they offer to patients.

In May 2016, the HHS regulation in question was initially added as part of the Affordable Care Act in Section 1557. This prompted litigation to protect the religious freedom of healthcare providers.

However, when President Donald Trump took office, he repealed the HSS ruling. It was then reinstated by the Biden Administration in May 2021.

The appellate decision is similar to an August decision from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which also upheld a permanent injunction against a trans-mandate being enforced on Christian doctors and hospitals.

Beckett Law, who represented the Catholic plaintiffs, celebrated both wins.

“I think this is a very powerful precedent under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This is the same law that has protected religious minorities for over two decades now, also protected the Little Sisters of the Poor from the contraception mandate,” said Luke Goodrich, senior counsel at the law firm, told the Christian Post on Friday.