Judicial Update for August 26, 2015

Presented this week by the American Humanist Association.

Social Security Administration to apply Obergefell retroactively
According to an August 20 press release from Lamda Legal, the nation’s oldest and largest legal organization that works for the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV/AIDS, “the Department of Justice announced that the Social Security Administration (SSA) will apply [Obergefell] the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent landmark marriage ruling retroactively and process pending spousal benefits claims for the same-sex couples who lived in state that did not previously recognize their marriages. According to the Department of Justice, the new policy will apply o previously filed claims still pending in the administrative process or litigation."
 
Prior to this decision, SSA guidelines recognized whether someone was married for Social Security purposes by the definition of marriage in their state of domicile. This had prevented married couples in states that did not recognize same-sex marriage from receiving full Social Security benefits. After Obergefell, all states must recognize same-sex marriage. This decision, according to the Department of Justice, “will apply to previously filed claims still pending in the administrative process or litigation.
 
6th Circuit upholds Affordable Care Act’s accommodation for religious non-profits
On August 21, the 6th Circuit upheld the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) accommodation for religious non-profits. The complainant employers in Michigan Catholic Conference v. Burwell, (6th Cir., Aug. 21, 2015) had argued that the accommodation – which allows them to opt out of paying for contraception coverage – violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The 6th Circuit had previously affirmed the accommodation in this case, however, while on appeal, the Supreme Court remanded it back to the appellate court for re-evaluation under Hobby Lobby. The 6th Circuit, however, affirmed its earlier decision, upholding the accommodation under RFRA and Hobby Lobby, finding that “[t]he government’s imposition of an independent obligation on a third party does not impose a substantial burden on the appellants’ exercise of religion.”
 
With this ruling the Sixth Circuit becomes the seventh to uphold the ACA's accommodation.
 
Arkansas rejects Hindu statue on state capitol grounds
Following a law passed by the Arkansas legislature last April approving placement of a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the state’s Capitol, the Universal Society of Hinduism has requested to place a privately-financed statue of Lord Hanuman on the grounds as well. The Arkansas Secretary of State’s office has reportedly denied the requested, with Chief Deputy Secretary of State Kelly Boyd allegedly telling the Hindu group that the State Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission that is responsible for approving monuments on Capitol grounds. The Secretary of State also suggested the Hindu group seek legislative approval similar to that of the Ten Commandments monument. The Universal Society of Hinduism plans to take its request to the governor. The Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Satanic Temple have also expressed interest in placing monuments at the Arkansas capitol.
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