Monday, August 18, 2014
Reversing the district judge's decision rendered more than 18 months ago which we discussed here, the Second Circuit's opinion in Central Rabbinical Congress v. NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene holds that the NYC regulation targeted at a certain circumcision practice is essentially one that as targeted at a certain religion and thus merits strict scrutiny under the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause.
The NYC regulation, §181.21, amended the NYC Health Code, by requiring specific consent and a warning for "oral suction" circumcision. Agreeing with the district judge, the Second Circuit rejected the claim that the regulation violated compelled speech doctrine. However, the unanimous panel, in an opinion authored by Judge Debra Ann Livingston, disagreed with the district judge and found that the regulation was not a neutral and generally applicable law.
The opening of the court's opinion is telling:
In Judaism, the “bris milah,” or ritual circumcision of infants, which has been practiced for millennia, celebrates a covenant with God and“derives explicitly from a commandment . . . in the Hebrew Bible.” 11 Encyclopedia of Religion, “Rites of Passage: Jewish Rites,” at 7818 (2d ed. 2005). As part of this ritual circumcision, some Orthodox Jews, particularly Satmar, Bobov, Lubavitch, and other Hasidic groups, perform direct oral suction of the circumcision wound in a ritual act known as metzitzah b’peh (“metzitzah b’peh” or “MBP”).
Relying on Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1993), the court reaches the conclusion that the
Regulation is not neutral because it purposefully and exclusively targets a religious practice for special burdens. And at least at this preliminary stage, the Regulation is not generally applicable either, because it is underinclusive in relation to its asserted secular goals: the Regulation pertains to religious conduct associated with a small percentage of HSV infection cases among infants, while leaving secular conduct associated with a larger percentage of such infection unaddressed.
Indeed, the court held that the question of whether the NYC Regulation singles out a specific religious practice is "simpler to address" than was true in Lukumi "in light of the Department’s own admission that metzitzah b’peh 'prompted' § 181.21 and that metzitzah b’peh is 'the only presently known conduct' covered by the Regulation."
The court notes that "the conclusion that the Regulation is subject to strict scrutiny does not mean that § 181.21 is constitutionally deficient, for strict scrutiny is not invariably fatal in the context of free exercise claims."
The Department has asserted interests that are substantial and may prove, on analysis, to be compelling. And the means it has chosen to address these interests (means that fall short of outright prohibition of MBP and that may further the goal of informed parental consent) may be appropriately tailored, albeit intrusive on a longstanding religious ritual. Mindful of the serious interests at stake on both sides, we express no view as to whether the plaintiffs have borne their burden of establishing a likelihood of success on the merits.
The court remanded, but denied the request for a stay of the enforcement of the regulation. The district judge's original 93 page order and opinion was largely devoted to the empirical evidence regarding the health effects of the practice; it looks as if she will be hearing the evidence on those very issues, but applying a heightened standard.
Monday, July 14, 2014
The Second Circuit ruled last week in Holland v. Goord that prison authorities substantially burdened a Muslim prisoner's free exercise of religion when they punished him for failing to complete a urine test within a three-hour window during fasting time for Ramadan. The plaintiff couldn't complete the test because he refused to drink water during his fast. (H/t to reader Jeff Wadsworth.)
The ruling means that the case goes back to the trial court to determine whether the prison authorities had a sufficient penalogical interest in requiring the urine test (and the water drinking, in order to facilitate the test) under Turner v. Safley. But that doesn't look good for the state: the Second Circuit noted that there was no good reason why the authorities couldn't administer the test (and require the plaintiff to drink water) after sundown (indeed, the plaintiff suggested this option himself). It also noted that the prison subsequently changed its own regulations to allow a religious accommodation to urine testing.
The Second Circuit rejected the plaintiff's invitation to disregard the "substantial burden" test from Employment Division v. Smith. Instead, the court ruled that the urine test met that requirement, drawing on its own cases saying that the denial of a religious meal is a substantial burden on religion.
The court also rejected the trial court's conclusion that the urine test and water drinking were mere de minimis burdens (because the plaintiff could have made up a drink of water during the fast with one extra day of fasting). The court said that the plaintiff sufficiently showed that this would have been a "grave sin," even if he could have made up for it.
Because the state changed its rules on urine testing to allow a religious accommodation, the court denied the plaintiff's request for injunctive relief under both his free exercise claim and his RLUIPA claim. The court rejected other claims, too. But it remanded the free exercise claim for determination whether the state had a sufficient penalogical interest in conducting the urine test the way that it did, and, if not (as is likely), for money damages.
Geoff Stone (Chicago) writes over at Huffington Post that religious tests for public office, which are still around in eight state constitutions, may well be upheld by the Roberts Court, should they ever be tested.
Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas all have these provisions, though they go unenforced. That's because the Court struck these tests in 1961 in Torcaso v. Watkins. But Stone says if the issue were to return to this Court, testing one of the eight state constitutional provisions, the five conservative justices may well reverse Torcaso and uphold the religious test.
But why would they disagree with Torcaso? After all, the reasoning of that unanimous decision seems clearly correct. But the five conservative justices on the Court today clearly do not share the general constitutional understandings of the Court in 1961. This is so across a range of issues, but perhaps most conspicuously in the realm of religion. Indeed, the Court's five conservative justices have consistently taken positions that come out quite aggressively in support of the interests of religion.
Stone cites Hobby Lobby and Town of Greece as just two recent decisions supporting this conclusion. Stone also argues that these five justices have already demonstrated their willingness to overturn well settled precedent. See Citizens United; Heller; Gonzales v. Carhart.
Thursday, July 3, 2014
In an emergency motion for a Temporary Restraining Order filed today in Hassan v. Obama in the District Court for the District of Columbia, the petitioner relies on Monday's controversial decision by the United States Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.
Petitioner, Imad Abdullah Hassan, a detainee at Guantánamo Bay, invokes the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to prevent the federal government from depriving him of " the right to participate in communal prayers during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan," a tenet of his religious faith.
As the motion outlines, the DC Circuit had previously held in Rasul v. Myers, 563 F.3d 527, 532-33 (D.C. Cir. 2009), that the Guantánamo Bay detainees are not protected “person[s]” within the meaning of the RFRA. The court in Rasul "bypassed the dictionary definition of “person” and instead looked to prior case law prescribing the scope of the word “person” for purposes of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments— which did not, in the Rasul court’s view, apply to nonresident aliens."
However, the motion argues this is a "dead letter" after the Court's decision in Hobby Lobby which "eviscerates the reasoning in Rasul and makes clear that Petitioner, as a flesh-and-blood human being, is among the 'person[s]' protected by the RFRA." Indeed, the court in Rasul held that in RFRA Congress merely "intended to incorporate the standard governing free exercise claims that prevailed before the Supreme Court's 1990 decision in Employment Division v. Smith," and that such claims did not include resident noncitizens. But in Hobby Lobby, the Justice Alito's opinion for the Court explicitly states:
the results would be absurd if RFRA merely restored this Court’s pre-Smith decisions in ossified form and did not allow a plaintiff to raise a RFRA claim unless that plaintiff fell within a category of plaintiffs one of whom had brought a free-exercise claim that this Court entertained in the years before Smith. For example, we are not aware of any pre-Smith case in which this Court entertained a free-exercise claim brought by a resident noncitizen. Are such persons also beyond RFRA’s protective reach simply because the Court never addressed their rights before Smith?
[Opinion at 33].
Thus, the motion argues that
a nonresident alien Guantánamo Bay detainee, who inarguably has constitutional rights in what is de facto sovereign U.S. territory, see Boumediene v. Bush, 553 U.S. 723 (2008), must also enjoy the protections extended by the RFRA.
Hobby Lobby leads inexorably to the conclusion that the nonresident alien detainees at Guantánamo Bay are “person[s]” protected by the RFRA. The Dictionary Act definition of “person” includes “individuals.” 1 U.S.C. § 1. The Dictionary Act does not confine “individuals” to U.S. citizens, just as it does not confine “corporations” to U.S. corporations; nor does it confine “individuals” to U.S. residents. The Guantánamo Bay detainees, as flesh-and- blood human beings, are surely “individuals,” and thus they are no less “person[s]” than are the for-profit corporations in Hobby Lobby or the resident noncitizens whom Hobby Lobby gives as an example of persons to whom the RFRA must apply. The fact that the detainees are at Guantánamo Bay changes nothing, for Hobby Lobby makes clear that a “person” whose religious free exercise is burdened under color of law need not be a U.S. citizen or resident in order to enjoy the RFRA’s protections.
The application of Hobby Lobby to "persons" who are detainees at Guantánamo Bay might be an unforeseen consequence of the decision, but the motion makes a convincing argument that it is a logical one grounded in the Court's holding and language.
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
The Sixth Circuit today denied a preliminary injunction to a group of religious employers and religious nonprofits challenging the exemption from and the accommodation to the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The ruling is just the latest in a line of challenges to the accommodation. We posted most recently here. (These cases are different than the Hobby Lobby case now before the Supreme Court: these cases involve religious nonprofits that take issue with the accommodation to the contraception mandate, where the Hobby Lobby case involves a corporation's challenge to the mandate itself.)
The cases are unusual, even surprising, in that the plaintiffs challenge the government's attempt to accommodate their religious beliefs as itself a violation of their religious rights.
The organizations challenged the exemption from and the accommodation to the mandate under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment (speech and religion clauses). The court ruled that they failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits and thus affirmed the lower court's denial of a preliminary injunction.
The court noted that some of the plaintiffs were religious employers who qualified for the exemption from the mandate. Because the exemption exempts them, and because it does not require any particular act on the part of the organizations, the court said that the exemption didn't violate the organizations' speech or religious rights.
As to the religious non-profits, the court said that they qualify for the accommodation by simply certifying that they object to the mandate--and that this didn't interfere with their religious or free speech rights. The court rejected the plaintiffs' arguments that the certification itself somehow implicated the organizations in providing contraception in violation of their religious rights or free speech rights. In language shy of, but no less certain than, the almost hostile ruling by Judge Posner in the Seventh Circuit rejecting a similar claim the court said,
The appellants are not required to "provide" contraceptive coverage. . . . The appellants are not required to "pay for" contraceptive coverage. . . . Moreover, the appellants are not required to "facilitate access to" contraceptive coverage. . . . Submitting the self-certification form to the insurance issuer or third-party administrator does not "trigger" contraceptive coverage; it is federal law that requires the insurance issuer or the third-party administrator to provide this coverage.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Jessica Mason Pieklo writes over at RH Reality Check about the pair of challenges to the Affordable Care Act set for oral argument next month (on May 8) in the D.C. Circuit. One of those cases challenges the government's accommodation to the so-called contraception mandate for religious nonprofits--the same issue in the Little Sisters case and, more recently, Notre Dame's case at the Seventh Circuit. (Those rulings were on injunctions against the accommodation pending appeal. Recall that the Supreme Court issued an order in the Little Sisters case, allowing the organization simply to write a letter to the HHS Secretary stating its religious objection to the contraception mandate, pending appeal on the merits to the Tenth Circuit. In contrast, the Seventh Circuit denied Notre Dame's request for an injunction pending appeal. The difference between the two cases: Notre Dame had already complied with the government's accommodation (and the court couldn't undo its compliance), whereas Little Sisters had not.)
The other case, Sissel v. HHS, is less well known. It challenges the universal coverage provision, or the so-called individual mandate. Plaintiffs in the case argue that as a tax (recall the Court's ruling in the ACA case) the provision had to originate in the House of Representatives under the Origination Clause. But it originated in the Senate. Plaintiffs say it's therefore invalid.
Pieklo writes that President Obama's recent appointees will have an impact on the court, and on these cases. That's because the panel that will hear arguments in these cases next month includes Judge Nina Pillard and Judge Robert Wilkins, the recent Obama appointees that were held up in the Senate but then confirmed after Senate Democrats used the nuclear option and disallowed a filibuster of federal court nominees (except Supreme Court nominees). Judge Rogers is also on the panel.
Monday, April 7, 2014
Recall that in November 2013 we posted "UK Supreme Court Confronts Clash Between Freedom of Religion and Gay Equality: Is the Issue Coming to The US Supreme Court Soon?"
The answer is "no," at least if "soon" means the case discussed in that post, Elane Photography v. Willock, a decision from the New Mexico Supreme Court in favor of a same-sex couple against a wedding photographer. The petition concentrated on the First Amendment speech rights of the photographer rather than religious rights; the Court denied certiorari today.
Meanwhile, Lady Brenda Hale, a Justice on the UK Supreme Court, appeared at a Comparative and Administrative Law Conference last month at Yale and spoke on the topic of "Religion and Sexual Orientation: The clash of equality rights," posting her written remarks on the UK Supreme Court site. Justice Hall considered the Bull case which we discussed as well as cases from Canada and the EU, all presenting the same basic issue: should religious persons be exempt from anti-discrimination laws? Justice Lady Hale offers some interesting observations: "it is fascinating that a country with an established church can be less respectful of religious feelings than one without." She also discusses direct and indirect discrimination and reiterates a point she made in the Bull case itself:
Both homosexuals and Christians were subject to the same laws requiring them not to discriminate in the running of their businesses. So if homosexual hotel keepers had refused a room to an opposite sex or Christian couple, they too would have been acting unlawfully.
This leads her to proclaim:
If you go into the market place you cannot pick and choose which laws you will obey and which you will not.
This may be an indication of how Lady Brenda Hale would rule in Hobby Lobby so recently argued before the United States Supreme Court, assuming the English Parliament would enact a statute similar to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Another difference: The arguments before the UK Supreme Court are televised live.
April 7, 2014 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Current Affairs, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, International, Religion, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, April 3, 2014
Does a city policy governing "extended use" of school facilities that excludes permits for the "purpose of holding religious worship services, or otherwise using a school as a house of worship" violate the First Amendment?
The Second Circuit in its opinion in Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York answered in the negative, a majority of the panel holding that the policy, Regulation I.Q., does not violate either the Free Exercise Clause or the Establishment Clause.
If this controversy sounds familiar, that would not be surprising. We discussed it here, and as today's opinion notes, the litigation has been "long-running," citing Bronx Household of Faith v. Bd. of Educ. of City of New York, 650 F.3d 30 (2d Cir. 2011) (“Bronx Household IV”); Bronx Household of Faith v. Bd. of Educ. of City of New York, 492 F.3d 89 (2d Cir. 2007) (“Bronx Household III”); Bronx Household of Faith v. Bd. of Educ. of City of New York, 331 F.3d 342 (2d Cir. 2003); Bronx Household of Faith v. Cmty. Sch. Dist. No. 10, 127 F.3d 207 (2d Cir. 1997).
Today's opinion - - - Bronx Household V - - - reverses the district judge's grant of an injunction on Free Exercise claims which were arguably not before the courts previously. The majority of the Second Circuit panel, in an opinion by Judge Pierre Leval joined by Guido Calabresi, carefully refuted the district judge's reasoning. In short, the panel majority held that Locke v Davey, 540 U.S. 712 (2004) (finding that the exclusion of devotional theology degree programs from eligibility for state scholarships does not violate Free Exercise Clause) was more apposite than Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1993)(holding that an ordinance "targeting" the Santeria practice of animal sacrifice merited strict scrutiny and violated the Free Exercise Clause).
The panel rejected the argument that the Regulation I.Q. targets religion generally or targets religions that have worship services. The panel also rejected the attempt to distinguish the scholarship in Locke v, Davey, noting that under the "extended use" policy, the city subsidizes the use of school facilities since the organizations can use the facilities without cost. The panel also found that the city's desire not to violate the Establishment Clause was a valid one. As the panel summarized:
In view of (1) the absence of discriminatory animus on the part of the Board against religion, or against religions that conduct worship services; (2) the bona fides and the reasonableness of the Board’s concern that offering school facilities for the subsidized conduct of religious worship services would create a substantial risk of incurring a violation of the Establishment Clause claim; and (3) the fact that the Board’s policy (a) leaves all persons and religions free to practice religion without interference as they choose, (b) treats all users, whether religious or secular, in identical fashion, and (c) imposes no burden on any religion, leaving all free to conduct worship services wherever they choose other than the Board’s schools; as well as the other reasons recited in this opinion and in Bronx Household IV, we conclude that Reg. I.Q. does not violate Plaintiffs’ rights to free exercise of religion, whether or not it is subject to strict scrutiny.
As to the Establishment Clause, the court rejected Bronx Household's argument that for the city to determine what constituted "religious worship services" would infringe the Establishment Clause. Bronx Household relied upon Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & Sch. v. E.E.O.C., 132 S. Ct. 694 (2012) - - - an example of how doctrine has been changing during this protracted litigation - - - but the majority expressed a very different view:
Hosanna-Tabor, moreover, does not merely fail to support Bronx Household’s claim of Establishment Clause violation due to excessive entanglement by the Board; it actively contradicts the argument. This is because in Hosanna-Tabor the Supreme Court itself did precisely what the District Court found a governmental entity prohibited from doing.
In other words, when the United States Supreme Court "undertook to make its own determination whether the plaintiff was a minister subject to the ministerial exception," it engaged in the very same type of determination that Bronx Household argues would violate the Establishment Clause.
If Senior Judge John Walker, dissenting, has his way, the Court might have a chance to discuss this Establishment Clause rationale again. Walker contends that this "case presents substantial questions involving the contours of both religion clauses and the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, the resolution of which are ripe for Supreme Court review." Most certainly, Bronx Household will be quoting that language in any petition seeking Supreme Court review.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Federal Judge Dismisses Complaint Alleging NYC Police Surveillance of Muslim Communities in New Jersey
In a terse ten page opinion today in Hassan v. City of New York, United States District Judge William Martini dismissed a complaint alleging that the New York City Police Department’s surveillance program targeted New Jersey Muslims solely on the basis of religion, thereby violating their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
The judge first found that there were not sufficient allegations to satisfy Article III standing. He relied upon Laird v. Tatum, 408 U.S. 1 (1972) to conclude that there was not an injury in fact because, as in Tatum, the allegations of a "subjective chill are not an adequate substitute for a claim of specific present objective harm or a threat of specific future harm."
The judge also found that the causation requirement of standing was not met because any injury was not caused by the surveillance but by the revelation of the surveillance:
None of the Plaintiffs’ injuries arose until after the Associated Press released unredacted, confidential NYPD documents and articles expressing its own interpretation of those documents. Nowhere in the Complaint do Plaintiffs allege that they suffered harm prior to the unauthorized release of the documents by the Associated Press. This confirms that Plaintiffs’ alleged injuries flow from the Associated Press’s unauthorized disclosure of the documents. The harms are not “fairly traceable” to any act of surveillance.
On the merits of the allegations, the judge applied the Iqbal "plausibility" and discriminatory "purpose" standard, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), and concluded that:
Plaintiffs in this case have not alleged facts from which it can be plausibly inferred that they were targeted solely because of their religion. The more likely explanation for the surveillance was a desire to locate budding terrorist conspiracies. The most obvious reason for so concluding is that surveillance of the Muslim community began just after the attacks of September 11, 2001. The police could not have monitored New Jersey for Muslim terrorist activities without monitoring the Muslim community itself. While this surveillance Program may have had adverse effects upon the Muslim community after the Associated Press published its articles; the motive for the Program was not solely to discriminate against Muslims, but rather to find Muslim terrorists hiding among ordinary, law-abiding Muslims.
Copies of the complaint and other pleadings are available at the Center for Constitutional Rights. The dismissal is sure to be appealed.
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
The Fourth Circuit ruled in Wall v. Wade that a Virginia prison's requirement that inmates show physical indicia of their faith before participating in Ramadan violated the Free Exercise Clause.
The case arose when Wall, an inmate at the Red Onion State Prison, or ROSP, in Pound, Virginia, sought a religious accommodation to participate in Ramadan--special meals served before sunrise and after sunset. But ROSP policy required prisoners to show "physical indicia" of their faith--such as a Quran, Kufi, prayer rug, or written religious materials obtains from the prison Chaplain's office--before receiving the accommodation. Wall had none of these, because his "physical indicia" were lost when he was transferred to ROSP from another facility. So officials denied his accommodation.
Wall nevertheless skipped breakfast and concealed a portion of his meal in his cell to save until after sunset. ROSP staff discovered the food and threatened to charge Wall with possessing contraband. As the court wrote, "Faced with choosing between starvation and sanctions, Wall ate during the day and violated his religious beliefs."
Wall filed formal complaints and later sued, arguing that ROSP policy as applied to him violated RLUIPA and the Free Exercise Clause. The district court dismissed the case, but the Fourth Circuit reversed.
The court held that the policy violated the four-part test in Turner v. Safley:
First, demanding specific physical items as proof of faith will rarely be an acceptable means of achieving the prison's stated interest in reducing costs. Strict application of such a rule fails even a rational connection requirement. . . .
[Second, i]t is clear that Wall was absolutely precluded from observing Ramadan because of the defendants' actions. . . .
[Third, w]e are not satisfied that the defendants have sufficiently explained how a less restrictive policy would have imposed a significant burden on prison resources. . . .
Finally, we are satisfied that there existed "easy [and] obvious alternatives" to the challenged regulation.
The court ruled that Wall's rights were "clearly established," and that ROSP officials therefore did not enjoy qualified immunity.
The court also rejected the claim that Wall's case was moot in light of the Prison's changed policy. Applying the "voluntary cessation" doctrine, the court wrote, "We have no difficulty concluding that the defendants failed to meet their "heavy burden" of establishing that it is not "absolutely clear" the 2010 Ramadan policy will not be reinstated."
Monday, December 30, 2013
Judge Lee H. Rosenthal (S.D. Texas) on Friday enjoined the government from applying regulations that require "nonprofit religious organizations" to execute the self-certification forms that enable their health insurers to provide health insurance coverage for emergency contraception under Obamacare.
The ruling in East Texas Baptist University v. Sebelius says that the plaintiffs, "nonprofit religious organizations," have a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their challenge to the regulations under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The ruling is now at least the twelfth on the issue, and the cases are split. Judge Rosenthal cites the cases in footnote 2, starting on page 2. (These are different than the challenges to the contraception mandate by secular for-profit corporations, the case going to the Supreme Court.)
The challenged government regulations require "religious employers" that are not exempt from the contraception mandate to self-certify that they meet the criteria for "eligible organization" (opposes contraception coverage, is a nonprofit, and holds itself out as a religious organization) to their insurer or third-party administrator. If the employer so certifies, the insurer or third-party administrator must expressly exclude contraception coverage from the group plan, but must also provide separate payments for contraception for plan participants. (The issuer must segregate premium revenue collected from the eligible organization from the monies used to make payments for contraception services.)
The regs attempt to build a firewall between an eligible organization and contraception provided by the insurer or third-party administrator. They were designed as a compromise for these organizations that aren't churches (on the one hand) or for-profit corporations (on the other, whose challenge to the contraception mandate is going to the Supreme Court), but organizations that have a religious dimension.
Still, many of these organizations have balked at the certification requirement. And here (and elsewhere), they've won.
Judge Rosenthal ruled that the RFRA uses a subjective standard, from the perspective of the organization, to determine whether the government regs create a substantial burden:
But under RFRA case law, if the plaintiffs are themselves compelled or pressured by threat of punitive fines to: 1) themselves take or forbear from an action; and 2) it is their own action or forbearance that they find religiously offensive, there is a substantial burden.
Op. at 36.
Here he said there was a substantial burden--the self-certification process:
The plaintiffs have demonstrated that the mandate and accomodation will compel them to engage in an affirmative act and that they find this act--their own act--to be religiously offensive. That act is completing and providing to their issuer or TPA the self-certification forms. The act of self-certification does more than simply state the organization's religious objection to covering or paying for its employees to get emergency contraception. The self-certification act designates the organization's TPA as the TPA for contraception coverage. The act tells the TPA or issuer that it must provide the organization's employees coverage that gives those employees free access to emergency contraceptive devices and products. That act tells the TPA or issuer that it must notify the employees of that benefit.
. . .
But the self-certification form requires the organizations to do much more than simply protest or object. The purpose of the form is to enable the provision of the very contraceptive services to the organization's employees that the organization finds abhorrent. . . . The purpose and effect of the form is to accomplish what the organization finds religiously forbidden and protests. If the organizations do not act in the way the accomodation requires, they face onerous fines.
. . .
But under the accommodation, the plaintiffs' employees would obtain coverage and no-cost-sharing payments for emergency contraception only because the employees are otherwise covered by the plaintiffs' group health plan. The government has taken significant steps to separate this payment from the group health plan. But the coverage and payment for employees to obtain emergency contraceptive products and devices is because those employees are covered by the group health plan that the plaintiff put into place.
Op. at 36-39.
Having determined that there was a substantial burden, Judge Rosenthal proceeded to apply strict scrutiny. As to the fit under strict scrutiny, the court said that the government didn't satisfy the least-restrictive-means test, because there were other ways for the government to achieve its interests:
The courts have identified several "less restrictive means" of serving the interests the government has identified [in promoting public health and ensuring equal access by women to health care services] than a total denial of the religious exemption request. One is to have the government provide the contraceptive services or coverage directly to those who want them but cannot get them from their religious-organization employers. . . . Another alternative would be to have the government work with third parties to provide emergency contraception without requiring the plaintiffs' active participation. Still another alternative could be to have the employee self-certify on an as-needed basis that their employer is a religious nonprofit that does not provide coverage for such services.
Op. at 43.
The ruling now adds to the body of lower-court case law. With the growing split, this is surely yet another issue (in addition to the question whether the contraception mandate violates the religious rights of secular for-profits) headed for the Supreme Court.
Saturday, December 14, 2013
In a 91 page opinion in Brown v. Buhman, federal district judge Clark Waddoups has concluded that Utah's anti-bigamy statute is partially unconstitutional.
The statute, Utah Code Ann. § 76-7-101, provides:
- (1) A person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person.
- (2) Bigamy is a felony of the third degree.
- (3) It shall be a defense to bigamy that the accused reasonably believed he and the other person were legally eligible to remarry.
The challengers to the statute, the Browns, are famous from the reality program Sister Wives and the accompanying book ) and are represented by Professor Jonathan Turley, who blogs about the case here.
The judge's scholarly opinion includes a discussion of Edward Said's groundbreaking book Orientalism as a critique of the well-known passage in the United States Supreme Court’s 1879 decision in Reynolds v. United States upholding the criminalization of polygamy by reasoning, in part, that "Polygamy has always been odious among the northern and western nations of Europe, and, until the establishment of the Mormon Church, was almost exclusively a feature of the life of Asiatic and of African people."
Judge Waddoups considers both the due process challenge (applying Washington v. Glucksberg) and the free exercise challenge (applying Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah).
In the due process analysis, the judge specifically found
there is no “fundamental right” to polygamy under Glucksberg. To phrase it with a “careful description” of the asserted right [citations omitted], no “fundamental right” exists to have official State recognition or legitimation of individuals’ “purported” polygamous marriages—relationships entered into knowing that one of the parties to such a plural marriage is already legally married in the eyes of the State. The fundamental right or liberty interest that was under consideration in Glucksberg is instructive for the analysis of whether the asserted right to polygamy is “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition, and implicit in the concept of ordered liberty, such that neither liberty nor justice would exist if they were sacrificed.”
The judge also found that the criminalization of what it called the "religious cohabitation" portion of the statute did not rise to the level of a fundamental right, extensively discussing Lawrence v. Texas and the Tenth Circuit's limiting interpretation of Lawrence.
However, the judge did find that "the cohabitation prong does not survive rational basis review under the substantive due process analysis." This analysis implicitly imported a type of equal protection analysis, with the judge concluding:
Adultery, including adulterous cohabitation, is not prosecuted. Religious cohabitation, however, is subject to prosecution at the limitless discretion of local and State prosecutors, despite a general policy not to prosecute religiously motivated polygamy. The court finds no rational basis to distinguish between the two, not least with regard to the State interest in protecting the institution of marriage.
Complementing this conclusion regarding discriminatory enforcement, the judge's free exercise of religion analysis concludes that while the Utah statute may be facially neutral, the cohabitation prong is not "operationally neutral" and not of general applicability. The judge therefore applied strict scrutiny to the cohabitation prong and easily concluded the statute failed.
As an alternative free exercise analysis, the judge reasoned that the cohabitation prong also merited strict scrutiny because it involved a "hybrid rights" analysis under Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith (1990), given the claims of due process, but also claims that the judge did not extensively analyzes such as free association, free speech, establishment, and equal protection.
Thus, the judge concluded the cohabitation prong of the statute is "unconstitutional on numerous grounds." However, the court explicitly narrowed the constructions of “marry” and “purports to marry" in the statute, so that the Utah statute continues to "remain in force as prohibiting bigamy in the literal sense—the fraudulent or otherwise impermissible possession of two purportedly valid marriage licenses for the purpose of entering into more than one purportedly legal marriage." Not surprisingly then, the judge's opinion does not cite the Supreme Court's opinion last term in United States v. Windsor involving DOMA and same-sex marriage, in which Justice Scalia, dissenting, invoked the effect the decision would have on polygamy. [I've previously discussed the similarities of same-sex marriage and polygamy claims here].
Given the district judge's narrowing construction and the clear constitutional issues with the Utah statute's breadth, it might be possible that the state does not appeal.
December 14, 2013 in Books, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, December 13, 2013
With Hobby Lobby (and Conestoga Wood) headed to the United States Supreme Court, there's more and more commentary on the issue of whether a for-profit secular corporation, or its "owners" has a right to free exercise of religion under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause sufficient to be exempted from compliance with the ACA's so-called contraception mandate requiring most employers to provide employees with health insurance that includes contraception.
Interestingly, after the grant of certiorari, some news reports headlined the religiousity of corporations aspect while others headlined the ACA contraception provision.
The issue has generated many commentaries which often take very polarized positions. Here's a round-up:
* Garrett Epps' Hobby Lobby and the New 'Alienable' Rights in The Atlantic argues that "market triumphalism" is at the heart - - - and will determine - - - cases such as Hobby Lobby. “In case after case, the Supreme Court, and some of the lower courts, have looked at speech cases solely from the point of view of the asset holder.” The abstract “inalienable” framework of rights in the Constitution has been transformed into rights as “assets” that can be treated as property and owned by corporations, especially those that are assumed to “create” the jobs encompassing the rights being asserted by the individuals. "The employees have no right to complain; they sold their rights on the free market."
* Richard Garnett's The Righteousness in Hobby Lobby’s Cause in the LA Times argues that Hobby Lobby should be praised for maintaining and supporting responsible corporate ethics through religious commitment. "Like millions of religious believers and groups," these corporations "reject the idea that religious faith and religious freedom are simply about what we believe and how we pray, and not also about how we live, act and work." At "the heart" of these cases "is the straightforward argument that federal law does not require us to 'check our faith at the door' when we pursue vocations in business and commerce."
* Linda Greenhouse's Doesn’t Eat, Doesn’t Pray and Doesn’t Love, in NY Times contends that the conflict is not really over religion but part of the continuing culture war surround sex. “To the extent that the “contraceptive project” changes anything on the American reproductive landscape, it will be to reduce the rate of unintended pregnancy and abortion. The objection, then, has to be not to the mandate’s actual impact but to its expressive nature, its implicit endorsement of a value system that says it’s perfectly O.K. to have sex without the goal of making a baby. While most Americans surely share this view, given the personal choices they make in their own lives, many nonetheless find it uncomfortable to acknowledge.”
* Dahlia Lithwick's Un-People over at Slate argues that the "conservative crusade to declare everything a “person”—corporations, fertilized eggs—will have disastrous consequences." Lithwick notes the extension from Citizens United: "Corporate Personhood is back! And this time, it’s got God on its side.” She predicts the consequences: "If for-profit secular corporations have religious beliefs, companies run by Christian Scientists can be free to limit medical treatment and those run by Jehovah's Witnesses could object to paying for blood transfusions. Artificially created constructs that exist to shield owners from lawsuits will be able to shield owners from compliance with basic civil rights laws."
* David Catron's SCOTUS, Hobby Lobby, and Media Practice over at The American Spectator argues against the "mainstream media" characterizations: “Those Americans still naïve enough to rely on establishment news outlets for information on current events are being told that Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius are part of a sinister conspiracy to restrict access to birth control, endow corporations with religious rights, and escalate the 'war on women.'" Instead, the main question should be this: "Can the government strip individuals of their religious liberties simply because they own a controlling interest in a corporation?"
* Sally Cohn's When Religion and Liberty Collide over at the Daily Beast draws on originalist interpretations of the First Amendment's religion clauses that "freedom *from* religion" is central. She contends that "the settlers who came to America wanted to express their own religious beliefs, but an equal if not greater motivation was escaping the reality of religious tyranny embedded in government," and to "put it mildly, our forbearers would be appalled by how right-wing conservatives are trying to use government to force their religious views on all of us."
* David Skeel's Corporations and Religious Freedom in WSJ argues that even if corporate religious rights are recognized, that doesn't mean there will be a flood of cases. Corporations will need to meet the sincerity requirement "and sincerity is much easier to determine with a corporation than with an individual, since there is no need to look inside the heart of a corporation. If a corporation's certificate of incorporation requires that it be operated in accordance with religious principles, or if its board of directors has established a clear and explicit practice of pursuing religious objectives, it would qualify. Otherwise it would not."
* Clarence Page's Law Protects All Faiths, Not All Behavior Op-Ed in The Chicago Tribune discusses the legal landscape in accessible terms, ultimately relying upon the belief/practice distinction as articulated "in the 1878 test case of the bigamy conviction of George Reynolds, the personal secretary to Mormon leader Brigham Young."
* Angelo Young's The Same Religious Conviction That Has Hobby Lobby Challenging Obamacare is Also Why Its Full Timers Start at $14 an Hour with Evenings (and Thanksgiving Off) in International Business Times argues exactly what its title captures. Focusing on Hobby Lobby, the article has an interview with David Green, the 73-year-old founder, including Green's comments about salary increases because "Our idea is that we should care about our people. It’s just a basic Christian do-unto-others idea."
* Amanda Marcotte's Christian Conservatives Have Perfected Playing the Victim Card in Salon (via alternet) argues that by the controversy is fueled by conservatives "redefining “religious freedom” to mean its opposite." She says the "hope is that by repeatedly using the term “religious freedom” when they mean “giving the Christian right power to impose their faith on others,” they can eventually drain the phrase of all its meaning and finally, after decades of fighting secularism, make it easier for the religious right to strip away individual protections for religion.”
* Megan McArdle's A Fight Over Contraception Won’t Help Obamacare Op-Ed in Bloomberg contends that the Obama Administration should "pick its battles carefully." She argues that if the ACA is to be " viable for the long term" it will "need the support of folks like Hobby Lobby."
We previously discussed
Ruthann Robson's Puzzling Corporations: The Affordable Care Act and Contraception Mandate originally published over at Jurist, and
Marci Hamilton's Why the En Banc Tenth Circuit’s Interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius Is Indefensible, originally published over at Justia.
Bill Keller, Conscience of a Corporation, Op-Ed Column in NYT (February 13, 2013).
Saturday, December 7, 2013
In Craig and Mullins v. Masterpiece Cakeshop, Inc., the subject is not the ACA ("Obamacare") as in the cases recently granted certiorari by the United States Supreme Court, or even a UK hotel or wedding photographs, both of which we discussed here, but a cake. But all these cases raise a similar question: can a secular for-profit corporation, or its owners, be exempted from a law by reason of a religious belief?
The 14 page opinion of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in Masterpiece Cakeshop firmly rejects the arguments of the Cakeshop, reasoning that to accept its position would be to "allow a business that served all races to nonetheless refuse to serve an interracial couple because of the business owner’s bias against interracial marriage." The ALJ was not persuaded by the fact that Colorado, where the cakeshop is located, does not recognize same-sex weddings, because the cakeshop owner admitted he would feel similarly if it were a same-sex commitment ceremony or civil union, neither of which is forbidden by state law. Indeed, nothing compels the cakeshop or its owner "to recognize the legality of a same-sex wedding or to endorse such weddings," only, like "other actors in the marketplace serve same-sex couples in exactly the same way they would serve heterosexual ones."
The ALJ rejected the contention that "preparing a wedding cake is necessarily a medium of expression amounting to protected 'speech,' " or that compelling the treatment of "same-sex and heterosexual couples equally is the equivalent of forcing" adherence to “an ideological point of view.” The ALJ continued that while there "is no doubt that decorating a wedding cake involves considerable skill and artistry," the "finished product does not necessarily qualify as 'speech.'"
As to the free exercise claim, the ALJ noted that the regulation at issue distinctly regulated conduct rather than belief. The ALJ rejected the contention that it merited strict scrutiny, noting that the anti-discrimination statute was a neutral law of general applicability and thus should be evaluated under a rational basis test. The ALJ also rejected the argument "because the public accommodation law not only restricts their free exercise of religion, but also restricts their freedom of speech and amounts to an unconstitutional “taking” of their property without just compensation in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments" a hybrid right meriting strict scrutiny was involved. For the ALJ, the "mere incantation" of other constitutional rights does not a hybrid claim create.
The remedy was a cease and desist order rather than damages.
[image: one of the cakes advertised on the Masterpiece Cakeshop website]
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
As widely expected, United States Supreme Court has granted the petitions for writ of certiorari to the Tenth Circuit's divided en banc opinion in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius as well as to the Third Circuit's divided opinion in Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation v. Secretary of Department of Health and Human Services.
In lengthy opinions, the Tenth Circuit en banc in Hobby Lobby essentially divided 5-3 over the issue of whether a corporation, even a for-profit secular corporation, has a right to free exercise of religion under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause. The majority essentially concluded there was such a right and that the right was substantially burdened by the requirement of the PPACA that employer insurance plans include contraception coverage for employees.
The majority of the Third Circuit panel opinion in Conestoga Wood Specialities Corporation, articulated the two possible theories under which a for-profit secular corporation might possess Free Exercise rights and rejected both. First, the majority rejected the notion that the Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation could "directly" exercise religion in accord with Citizens United v. Fed. Election Comm’n (2010), distinguishing free speech from free exercise of religion. Second, the majority rejected the so-called "pass through" theory in which for-profit corporations can assert the free exercise rights of their owners, and concluded that the PPACA did not actually require the persons who are owners to "do" anything.
For ConLaw Profs, here are some useful links: A discussion of the most recent circuit case, decided earlier in November by the Seventh Circuit, is here; a digest of the previous circuit court cases and some discussion of the controversy is here, some interesting hypotheticals (good for teaching and exam purposes) as posed by Seventh Circuit Judge Rovner are here, ConLawProf Marci Hamilton's discussion is here, a critique of the sincerity of claims in Eden Foods is here, a discussion of the district judge's opinion in Hobby Lobby is here, a discussion of the Tenth Circuit en banc opinion in Hobby Lobby is here, and the SCOTUSblog page with briefs is here.
[image: Supreme Court Justices by Donkey Hotey via]
November 26, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Family, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Gender, Religion, Supreme Court (US), Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, November 11, 2013
The Veterans Day Off Bill, reintroduced by Congressperson Bruce Braley of Iowa this year would require employers with more than 50 employees to give any veteran Veterans Day off, with or without pay. The bill includes an exemption for cases in which the day off would negatively impact public health or safety, or cause significant economic or operational disruption.
First, there could be an equality challenge. Nonveterans could challenge the law as a denial of the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment. Certainly the law would be making a classification between veterans and nonveterans. However, this classification receives receives the lowest level of scrutiny from the courts: the government would have the legitimate interest of "honoring veterans" and a single day off, that could be without pay, would most likely be reasonable. It would be similar to veterans preferences in government employment which have been held constitutional, even though they have a disparate negative impact on women, as in Personnel Administrator of Massachusetts v. Feeney, decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1979.
Second, there could be a challenge to Congressional power to require private employers to allow employees a day off. Requirements that private employers do not practice race or sex discrimination, or comply with wage and hour laws, or provide family medical leave, have all been held constitutional. This law would be similar to those laws, as well as the the federal law protecting employment for those serving in the military, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). The Bill does not apply to employees working for state governments where the Eleventh Amendment could serve as a potential bar to lawsuits seeking to vindicate rights.
Lastly, should the United States Supreme Court ever recognize that secular for-profit corporations have a free exercise of religion right under the First Amendment, the future could bring a challenge by the major shareholders of a corporation that sells sequins or makes kitchen cabinets or sells groceries on the basis that the shareholders are Quakers, for example, who have a sincere and deeply held pacifist religious belief that would be burdened by being mandated to support a day off for someone who had participated in the activities of war.
[image: The Afghanistan-Iraq War Memorial in Salem, Oregon, via]
Saturday, November 9, 2013
Federal district judge Freda Wolfson has upheld the constitutionality of New Jersey A3371 banning "sexual orientation change efforts" (SOCE), also known as sexual conversion therapy, on minors in her extensive opinion in King v. Christie.
Recall that Chris Christie - - - now the recently re-elected Governor of New Jersey - - - signed the bill into law last August, accompanied by a signing statement, and that the plaintiffs, including Tara King, a licensed professional counselor, as well as National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (“NARTH”) and American Association of Christian Counselors (“AACC”), argued that the statute violates their First Amendment rights of free speech, rights of their clients to "receive information," and free exercise of religion, as well as clients' parental due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, in addition to concomitant rights under the New Jersey state constitution.
The district judge found that the First Amendment challenges raised by the plaintiffs were the most serious ones, but also found that the statute restricts neither speech nor religious expression, and that the statute survived rational basis scrutiny.
Regarding speech, Judge Wolfson concluded that on its face, the statute plainly regulates conduct, quoting the statutory language:
“shall not engage in sexual orientation change efforts,” and further defines “‘sexual orientation change efforts” as “the practice of seeking to change a person’s sexual orientation.”
(emphasis in opinion). She extensively discussed the Ninth Circuit's opinion in Pickup v. Brown, upholding a smiliar California statute prohibiting SOCE. She briefly distinguished the federal district judge's opinion in Wollschlaeger v. Farmer declaring unconstitutional Florida's prohibition of physicians asking patients about gun ownership, noting that unlike the Florida law, the NJ statute "does not seek to regulate the conveying of information, only the application of a particular therapeutic method." She also confronted the implications of the plaintiffs' arguments:
there is a more fundamental problem with Plaintiffs’ argument, because taken to its logical end, it would mean that any regulation of professional counseling necessarily implicates fundamental First Amendment free speech rights, and therefore would need to withstand heightened scrutiny to be permissible. Such a result runs counter to the longstanding principle that a state generally may enact laws rationally regulating professionals, including those providing medicine and mental health services.
She likewise rejected the argument that there was sufficient expressive conduct to merit an analysis under the intermediate scrutiny standard of O'Brien, finding instead that rational basis was the appropriate standard and switching to a due process analysis, having "rejected Plaintiffs' First Amendment free speech challenge." (footnote 22). Not surprisingly, she finds this standard easily satisfied. Relatedly, she easily concludes that the challenge to the term "sexual orientation" as vague and the challenge to the statute as overbroad are both without merit.
As to the free exercise of religion challenge, Judge Wolfson concludes that the statute is a neutral one of general applicability and rejects the argument that the statute's exceptions create a disproportionate impact on religious expression. Again, she concludes that rational basis applies and for the same rationales discussed in the free speech analysis, the statute easily satisfies the standard.
In other matters, the judge found that the plaintiffs did not have sufficient Article III standing to raise the injuries to their minor clients and their parents. On the other hand, the judge granted intervernor status to Garden State Equality.
The judge's opinion is a well reasoned one, and is certainly buoyed by the Ninth Circuit's similar conclusion.
The plaintiffs filed a Notice of Appeal immediately, so the matter is already on its way to the Third Circuit.
[image: Diagram of the Brain circa 1300 via]
November 9, 2013 in Due Process (Substantive), Family, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Speech, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
ConLawProfBlog's own Ruthann Robson (CUNY) just posted her thoughtful take on the several oddities that arise when courts consider whether corporations are religious persons in Puzzling Corporations: The Affordable Care Act and Contraception Mandate over at Jurist.org. Robson exposes the inconsistencies, the hypocrisies, and the unintended consequences in the on-going cases and debates over whether a for-profit corporation is a religious-rights-bearing entity that can skirt the ACA's contraception mandate.
Robson has covered the issue--whether the ACA's contraception mandate violates a corporation's religious liberties (and the included issue whether a corporation can even have religious liberties)--here (Gilardi v. HHS), here (Eden Foods v. Sebelius), here (Autocam Corp. v. Sebelius), here (Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Secretary of HHS), and, of course, here (Hobby Lobby).
Robson argues that the question whether a corporation can have religious liberties has several problems. First, the profit: historically, religious entities that enjoyed religious liberties (like those in Gonzalez v. O Centro Espirita and Church of the Lukumi Bablu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah) were nonprofits. But the Tenth Circuit ruled in Hobby Lobby that "sincerely religious persons could find a connection between the exercise of religion and the pursuit of profit." Next, "the secular shape of many corporations . . . is ill-suited to sectarianism. There is little, if anything, to alert a consumer or a job applicant that one is engaging with a religious entity." Finally, there's a slippery slope: treating a for-profit corporation as a religious-rights-bearing person could lead to exemptions for that corporation from all manner of federal requirements that interfere with the corporation's "beliefs."
Robson also shows why attributing the free exercise claims of shareholders to a corporation, or pass-through, is a problem. "In asserting religious rights, corporations seek to pierce their own corporate veils for the purposes of some sectarian principles such as contraception coverage for employees, but presumably to keep their protective masks in place regarding personal liability."
Treating all these claims as sincerely held religious beliefs probably gives them too much credit, though. As Robson reminds us, Eden Food's founder's case wasn't really a religious objection to the contraception mandate. Instead, it was a "laissez-faire, anti-government screed" (the Sixth Circuit's phrase, not Robson's), with decidedly "sexist and anti-worker" overtones (Robson's phrase, not the Sixth Circuit's). So Robson asks, "If a corporation can have a religion, is it coincidence that its most deeply held and sincere beleifs are in opposition to equality and democracy?"
Friday, November 1, 2013
In a divided opinion including two senior judges, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Gilardi v. HHS entered the fray regarding corporate rights under RFRA and the First Amendment regarding the requirement that an employer include contraceptive coverage in its health care insurance. Recall that just last week, the Sixth Circuit denied the claim of Eden Foods, following the decision of another panel of the circuit in Autocam Corp. v. Sebelius, decided in September, that agreed with the divided panel of the Third Circuit's July opinion in Conestoga Wood Specialties that a for-profit secular corporation cannot assert a claim to religious freedom under RFRA, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This is contrary to the holding of the divided en banc Tenth Circuit's June majority opinion in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius presently before the United States Supreme Court on a petition for writ of certiorari filed by the Solicitor General on behalf of Sebelius.
In Gilardi, the divisions by the DC Circuit judges - - - Janice Rogers Brown, Harry Edwards, and A. Raymond Randolph - - - reflect the divisions expressed in the other opinions. Judge Brown's main opinion is joined in various parts by only one of the other two judges, both of whom wrote separate opinions. Judge Randolph's opinion is a few pages, while Judge Edwards' opinion, concurring in part and dissenting in part is longer than the majority opinion.
The case involves Francis and Philip Gilardi, adherents of Catholicism, who oppose contraception for women. They are owners of Freshway Foods and Freshway Logistics, closely-held corporations that employ approximately 400 employees. Important for the analysis, the corporations "have elected to be taxed under Subchapter S of the Internal Revenue Code." Judge Randolph's brief opinion has a good explication of the relevance of Subchapter S.
The judges, excepting Randolph, first decide that the corporations do not possess a right of religious freedom. The majority finds that RFRA's "person" language does not solve the issue, and turns to First Amendment doctrine. The court notes that perhaps the "constitutional arithmetic" of "Citizens United plus the Free Exercise Clause equal a corporate free exercise right" might "ultimately prevail, but "for now" there is "no basis for concluding a secular organization can exercise religion," thus agreeing with cases such as Eden Foods. In the brief concurring opinion, Judge Randolph states this issue need not have been addressed.
This "leaves the Gilardis," as the court phrases it, and finds that they suffer an injury "separate and distinct" from the corporation. The majority - - this time without the agreement of Judge Edwards - - - finds that the religious freedoms of the individual men are burdened under RFRA. It applies strict scrutiny, as required by RFRA, but interestingly quoting from Fisher, last Term's equal protection case involving racial classifications in affirmative action programs at the the University of Texas. The majority then rejects as compelling the government interests in safeguarding public health, protecting women's autonomy, or promoting gender equality, finding these interests both too broadly formulated and even if satisfactory, not being served by the least restrictive means. In short, the majority concludes, even without the contraceptive mandate, the "statutory scheme will not go to pieces."
Judge Edwards' lengthy opinion finds that while the Gilardis may be sincere, the legal claim that the mandate imposes a substantial burden on their individual rights of free exercise of religion because "their companies are required to provide health insurance that includes contraceptive services" is "specious." Judge Edwards argues that while the individuals may have Article II standing to pursue their claim, this does not mean that they have a valid one. Judge Edwards extensively rehearses the Supreme Court's free exercise doctrine, intertwined with RFRA, and discusses the burden on the Gilardis. In a paragraph that captures the disagreement over whether individuals are burdened by the acts of corporations, he argues:
Amici also contend that the difference between the Mandate and paying wages is akin to the difference between a person who opposes the death penalty being required to pay taxes that fund executions, and being required to “purchase the drugs for a lethal injection and personally deliver them to the facility where the execution will take place.” Br. of 28 Catholic Theologians and Ethicists at 19. The problem with this rather extraordinary example is that the Mandate does not require the Gilardis to have nearly this degree of personal involvement in providing contraceptives. The Mandate does not require the Gilardis to transfer funds from Freshway’s accounts directly to the manufacturers or retailers of contraception. Nor are the companies required to deliver or distribute contraception to employees. Under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(d)(1), Freshway is a distinct legal entity from its self-insured group health plan. The plan is operated by a third-party administrator, and, pursuant to health privacy regulations, the Gilardis are actually prohibited from being informed whether individual employees purchase contraceptive products, or about any other information regarding employees’ health care decisions. See Br. of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, et al., at 29-30 (citing 45 C.F.R. § 164.508; 45 C.F.R. § 164.510). Moreover, the Gilardis are free to procure Mandate-compliant coverage for their employees through an entirely independent, third-party insurance carrier, rather than administering their own group health plan. Id. This is a far cry from personally purchasing contraceptives and delivering them to employees.
Further, Judge Edwards would find that even if there were a substantial burden, there are compelling governmental interests supporting the contraceptive mandate provisions, including "promoting public health, welfare, and gender equality." He would find the exemptions narrow and, analogizing to the Social Security tax upheld by the United States Supreme Court, the scheme cannot function if persons are allowed to opt-out because money is being spent in a manner that violates their religious beliefs.
Because the district court found as a matter of law that the Gilardis did not have a substantial likelihood of prevailing on the merits, it denied the prelimiary injunction. Having reversed that conclusion of law, the majority remands for a determination of the other considerations for a preliminary injunction.
But most certainly the Gilardis case - - - or this issue - - - will not simply end there. It may be determined by what the Court does in Hobby Lobby, even as Freshway Foods is distinguished by being a different type of corporation.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
The Eternal World Television Network, a Catholic media corporation, and the State of Alabama filed suit against the government yesterday, seeking to halt the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act.
EWTN argues that the mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the religion clauses, among other claims. Alabama says that the mandate intrudes on its "sovereign prerogative to regulate the insurance market in accordance with its own law and policy, without being contradicted by unlawful federal regulations."
The case is just the latest religious-based challenge against the contraception mandate. We posted most recently just yesterday, on the Sixth Circuit's ruling in Eden Foods. If Eden Foods seemed more political than religious-based--the plaintiff's "deeply held religious beliefs" "more resembled a laissez-faire, anti-government screed," according to the court--this case seems more political than religious-based for a different reason: EWTN is exempt under HHS regs, and if the mandate is valid Alabama simply has no claim. In other words: the plaintiffs don't seem to have much to complain about. We posted on the government's proposed regs exempting religious employers here; and we posted on the then-developing circuit split on the issue here.
EWTN says this about its accommodation under the regs:
This is a mere fig leaf. It would still require EWTN to play a central role in the government's scheme by "designating" a fiduciary to pay for the objectionable services on EWTN's behalf. This would do nothing to assuage EWTN's objections to the mandate.
The so-called "accommodation" also continues to treat EWTN as a second-class religious organization, not entitled to the same religious freedom rights as the Church it exists to serve. It also creates administrative hurdles and other difficulties for EWTN, forcing it to seek out and contract with companies willing to provide the very drugs and services that EWTN speaks out against.
As to Alabama, the State apparently seeks to protect itself and its citizens from the "immediate and continuing burdens" of the mandate. The State points out that its law expressly says that insurers do not have to provide contraception coverage in their plans. The claim sounds in federalism, but the complaint doesn't say why or how the federal mandate violates federalism principles. (Maybe that's because it doesn't.)
The plaintiffs also raise free speech, due process, and APA claims.
October 29, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Establishment Clause, Federalism, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, News, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)