Moyle v. United States and Idaho v. United States

Feds weaponize the law to target pro-life states 

Congress passed the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) in 1986 to prevent hospitals from refusing care to uninsured patients. EMTALA applies to all hospitals with ERs who serve anyone who receives Medicaid or Medicare, as well as the hospitals’ physicians and other staff. Weeks after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reinterpreted EMTALA to expand abortion access. For the first time ever, HHS decided that the decades-old law contained a mandate to provide abortions. The government argues that EMTALA requires doctors and hospitals to perform abortions in certain situations, including when a woman presents “with an incomplete medical abortion.” HHS released its novel interpretation in a guidance document and letter and stated that these requirements override any conflicting state abortion law. 

The federal government quickly filed a federal lawsuit against Idaho over its Defense of Life Act, which bans abortion except when necessary to save the life of a mother, or in cases of rape or incest. A district court sided with the federal government and blocked Idaho’s law. Idaho then appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which put a hold on the lower court’s decision while the case was pending. Idaho and its legislature asked the Supreme Court to take the case, and it agreed. 

HHS’s history of punishing religious groups 

The EMTALA guidance is yet another example of the government weaponizing HHS to achieve its policy goals, regardless of its impact on religious objectors.  For example, in 2011, HHS issued a federal contraceptive mandate as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This mandate required employers to provide contraceptives in their health insurance plans, including those that many religious groups consider to be abortion-causing drugs. Despite the many religious objections to the contraceptive mandate, HHS included only a narrow religious exemption. This exemption did not protect  groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic order of nuns that runs homes for the elderly poor. The Little Sisters were forced to litigate for over a decade to protect their religious exercise, with the Supreme Court stepping in three times. Their battle is still not over. 

Similarly in 2016, HHS issued regulations under the ACA that required doctors and hospitals to perform gender transition procedures and other treatments to alter a patient’s body in response to gender dysphoria. Healthcare professionals could be penalized for declining to help with a gender transition, even if it was against their medical judgment and religious beliefs. Becket represented the Christian Medical and Dental Associations (CMDA), a nonprofit organization of over 12,000 Christian healthcare professionals, and other parties who objected to this transgender mandate on religious grounds. CMDA spent more than six years in court fighting HHS’s transgender mandate before a federal appeals court ultimately concluded that the federal government had violated CMDA’s religious exercise.  

Becket defends religious healthcare professionals  

On February 27, 2024, Becket filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of CMDA in support of Idaho. The brief argues that the government’s abortion mandate fails to consider the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). When HHS issues regulations it is required to consider protections for religious Americans, and it failed to do so in this case. That is especially glaring given the government’s long history of losing in court when it fails to take RFRA seriously. 

The government’s mandate also runs counter to public opinion. According to the 2023 Religious Freedom Index, 71 percent of Americans think that healthcare workers should have the freedom not to participate in abortion if it goes against their religious beliefs. Religious healthcare professionals should never have to abandon their faith to care for those in need. Oral argument in the case was heard by the Supreme Court on April 24, 2024, and a decision is expected by the end of the Court’s term in June.

Importance to Religious Liberty: 

  • Individual Freedom: The freedom of conscience is the human right to believe, express beliefs, and act according to the dictates of an individual’s conscience. Becket defends the right of all individuals to live according to their consciences without government coercion. 

Ricks v. Idaho Board of Contractors

One man’s religious convictions 

George Ricks is a 59-year-old father of four who has worked in construction his entire career. A long-time student of the Bible, George believes it is wrong to provide his Social Security number as a condition of obtaining work. 

In 2014, he tried to become an independent contractor. But in Idaho, where George lives, it is a misdemeanor to work as a contractor without first registering with the state, and registering requires providing a social security number. George was willing to provide any other form of identification, including his birth certificate, but he has a sincere religious objection to using his Social Security number to secure employment. The Idaho Board of Contractors—which makes exceptions for others, and which could obtain Ricks’s Social Security number in other ways if it really needed to—refused to accommodate his religious beliefs and denied his registration. 

No social security number, no job 

The Board’s denial was motivated by money. A federal law dictates that the Board of Contractors will receive extra funding if it collects contractors’ Social Security numbers. The law’s intent is to help the government track down delinquent fathers—something no one could ever accuse George of being, as he has spent his entire adult life providing for his four children. 

Yet the Board’s refusal to register George cost him the ability to find full-time work and provide fully for his family. Government regulations shouldn’t force someone unnecessarily to choose between being employed and practicing their religion. But in Ricks’s case, that is exactly what’s happening. Idaho’s forced choice between faith and work is entirely avoidable: the other licensing laws already grant accommodations to foreign residents who don’t have Social Security numbers; and if Idaho really needs Ricks’s government-issued number, it can consult its own records or ask the federal government to provide it. 

Becket defends free exercise 

Needless bureaucracy should never take precedence over the free exercise of religious beliefs. The Board of Contractors should stop forcing George to choose between his religious beliefs and his ability to provide for his family. In January 2019, Becket stepped up to represent George in his lawsuit against the Idaho Board of Contractors. After the Idaho Supreme Court refused to hear his case, Becket filed a petition in the Supreme Court of the United States on July 10, 2019, asking the Court to hold that the Free Exercise Clause requires Idaho to accommodate George’s religious beliefs. On June 28, 2021, the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari for the case.

Importance to religious liberty

  • Free exercise: Individuals should be free to hold and act on their deeply held convictions, not just in their homes or places of worship, but in their places of employment and the public square.
  • Religious beliefs and employment: When a government regulation bars someone from pursuing employment because of their religious beliefs, the government must prove that there is no other way for it to achieve its goals without banning a private person’s freedom of religion.

Intermountain Fair Housing Council v. Boise Rescue Mission Ministries

A ministry with a Christian mission: serving those in need

What if a Christian homeless shelter were forbidden from holding a Christian chapel service? That almost happened to the Boise Rescue Mission, a ministry that had served the needy in Boise, Idaho for over 50 years.

The Mission serves the homeless by offering addiction recovery programs, a Veterans Ministry program, holiday meals, job searches, counseling, and after-school activities for children. From 2012 to 2013 alone, it welcomed nearly 5,000 new guests, served about 700,000 meals, and provided 250,000 beds. Hundreds have graduated from its recovery program and have moved on to build productive, successful lives. The Boise Rescue Mission has never turned away a person in need.

The Rescue Mission is a Christian ministry, one that provides a Bible-based curriculum and chapel services to those in need. Its commitment to the Word of God inspires it to welcome the homeless and needy with open arms.

A lawsuit threatens the ministry’s vital work

But in 2008, its faith-based programs and the people it serves were threatened when a federally funded fair housing group in Idaho sued the Rescue Mission under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The lawsuit claimed that the Rescue Mission discriminated on the basis of religion by encouraging guests at the homeless shelter to attend chapel services and by requiring members of the Christian discipleship program to participate in religious activities. This is despite the fact that participation in the Rescue Mission’s programs is voluntary and free of charge, and the Rescue Mission receives no government funding.

In response to the lawsuit, the Rescue Mission argued that the FHA protected the right of the homeless shelter to conduct chapel services, and that forcing the Rescue Mission to accept members of the discipleship program who reject its core beliefs would violate the First Amendment.

Court victory for religious ministries and the communities they serve

The federal district court in Idaho ruled in favor of the Rescue Mission, and the fair housing group appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In July 2011, Becket attorney Luke Goodrich argued the case in the Ninth Circuit.

In September 2011, Becket won a resounding victory when the Ninth Circuit issued a unanimous opinion in favor of the Boise Rescue Mission. The court victory enshrined the right of religious groups to minister to the poor and needy in accordance with their religious beliefs.

Learn more about this case by listening to our Podcast episode, “Religion and Recovery.”

Importance to religious liberty:

  • Religious CommunitiesReligious communities have the right to build and lead their ministries according to their beliefs free from governmental interference or discrimination.