A federal district court in Indiana has rejected a challenge to the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The lawsuit was based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allows religious individuals and organizations to be exempted from laws that pose a “substantial burden” on their religious freedom unless the government can show that the law is the “least restrictive means” of achieving a “compelling state interest.” You can read the full ruling here.
The crux of the court’s ruling is that the mandate that insurance companies provide a rider for contraception coverage for all people covered by employer health plans even if those health plans do not include such coverage in the group policy does not constitute a substantial burden on the religious freedom of the plaintiffs. The court cited an earlier ruling from a federal court in Missouri in this regard:
[T]he challenged regulations do not demand that plaintiffs alter their behavior in a manner that will directly and inevitably prevent plaintiffs from acting in accordance with their religious beliefs. … [P]laintiffs remain free to exercise their religion, by not using contraceptives and by discouraging employees from using
contraceptives. The 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 [thecompany’s] plan, subsidize someone else’s participation in an activity that is condemned by plaintiffs’ religion. The 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…
RFRA is a shield, not a sword. It protects individuals from substantial burdens on religious exercise that occur when the government coerces action one’s religion forbids, or forbids action one’s religion requires; it is not a means to force one’s religious practices upon others. RFRA does not protect against the slight burden on religious exercise that arises when one’s money circuitously flows to support the conduct of other free-exercise-wielding individuals who hold religious beliefs that differ from one’s own.
I expect this to be the standard ruling in the many cases challenging the contraception mandate. The logic is pretty difficult to get around. At the same time, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday issued a ruling that says the exact opposite.