The Story: A lawsuit challenging a requirement that businesses offer employees contraception coverage through health care insurance was thrown out by a federal judge.
The Background: U.S. District Judge Carol E. Jackson in St. Louis dismissed the lawsuit filed earlier this year by Frank O’Brien and his O’Brien Industrial Holdings LLC, which challenged the mandate based on the claim that it unconstitutionally violated his religious beliefs and the Catholic philosophy he applied in running his business.
In her ruling, Judge Jackson wrote,
Frank O’Brien is not prevented from keeping the Sabbath, from providing a religious upbringing for his children, or from participating in a religious ritual such as communion. Instead, plaintiffs remain free to exercise their religion, by not using contraceptives and by discouraging employees from using contraceptives.
[. . .]
This Court rejects the proposition that requiring indirect financial support of a practice, from which plaintiff himself abstains according to his religious principles, constitutes a substantial burden on plaintiff’s religious exercise.
Why It Matters: Jackson’s legal reasoning could be applied to every employer who has religious objections to the HHS mandate’s requirement to pay for contraceptives and abortifacients. As Legal analyst Ed Whelan explains, “Under her reasoning, the very narrow exemption that the Obama administration is affording some employers and the ‘safe harbor’ against enforcement that it is temporarily extending to others are entirely gratuitous.” Law professor Rob Vischer adds,
f this court is correct in its analysis, then HHS could rewrite the regulations, remove any exemption for religious employers and add abortion to the list of covered services. The Catholic Church could be forced to pay for its employees’ abortions without creating a substantial burden on religious exercise for purposes of [Religious Freedom Restoration Act], and that issue would be so straightforward that it could be handled on a [pretrial motion].