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Companies' religious rights appear headed for top court

| Saturday, July 27, 2013, 6:54 p.m.

A federal appeals court ruling on Friday increased the chances that the Supreme Court in its coming term will need to settle whether secular, for-profit corporations must provide contraceptive coverage to employees despite the owners' religious objections.

A divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit ruled that a Pennsylvania cabinet-making company owned by a Mennonite family must comply with the contraceptive mandate contained in the Affordable Care Act.

The majority said it “respectfully disagrees” with judges in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver, who recently narrowly found just the opposite. A split in interpreting federal statutes is usually an invitation for the Supreme Court to resolve the issue.

This one is novel: The justices have never said whether a secular corporation is protected by the Constitution or federal statute from complying with a law because of religious objections from its owners.

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