Circuit Court Rejects Attack on Contraception Coverage

Yesterday, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals denied a petition to prevent enforcement of the ACA's contraception coverage provision for owners of the Hobby Lobby chain, who disapprove of certain types of birth control. They claim that the law infringes on their religious liberty in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Under RFRA, federal laws cannot substantially burden the free exercise of religious beliefs unless they further a compelling government interest in the least restrictive manner possible.

As Reuter reports:

The company faces fines of up to $1.3 million daily if it disobeys the mandate, which takes effect on January 1 for Hobby Lobby, a $3 billion chain, and its smaller sister operation, Mardel, a Christian-oriented bookstore and educational supply company.

Both companies are owned by the Green family of Oklahoma City, whose patriarch, David Green, is ranked 79th on Forbes Magazine's list of the 400 richest Americans, with a net worth of $4.5 billion.

In rejecting the RFRA claim, the unanimous court agreed with the lower court, which had put the case succinctly:

[T]he particular burden of which plaintiffs complain is that funds, which plaintiffs will contribute to a group health plan, might, after a series of independent decisions by health care providers and patients covered by [the corporate] plan, subsidize someone else's participation in an activity that is condemned by plaintiff[s'] religion. Such an indirect and attenuated relationship appears unlikely to establish the necessary "substantial burden."

The corporation's owners, who are being represented by the right wing Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, have said they will take the case to the Supreme Court.

Several months ago, People For the American Way Foundation released 12 Rules For Mixing Religion and Politics, a publication designed to generate conversation on how to create and sustain a civic space reflecting our nation's Constitution and the values of respectful discourse. One of those rules states:

Government has a right to demand that religious institutions and individuals comply with reasonable regulation and social policy.

Just where to draw the line is a question where reasonable people can disagree. The requirement to provide certain health insurance for your employees – not for yourself, but for people you hire in a business you place in the public stream of commerce – seems a reasonable one.

PFAW Foundation