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)
Monday, September 30, 2013
Yesterday we wrote about the latest case in Kansas challenging evolution in the classroom. In a comment, reader Eli Bortman gave us the heads-up that yesterday's NYT included an article on the same issue in Texas. (Thanks, Eli.)
Here's a bit from the Times piece that helps explain the edu-ese and pseudo-scientific language in COPE's complaint in the Kansas case:
By questioning the science--often getting down to very technical details--the evolution challengers in Texas are following a strategy increasingly deployed by others around the country.
There is little open talk of creationism. Instead they borrow buzzwords common in education, "critical thinking," saying there is simply not enough evidence to prove evolution.
COPE went even further, though, arguing that the Kansas standards (with (secular) evolution as a centerpiece) themselves represent a kind of religious orthodoxy, and that Kansas in imposing this orthodoxy, without balancing it with "origin science," violated the religion clauses, free speech, and the Eqaul Protection Clause. In doing so, COPE adopts the language and legal claims of opponents of creationism and tries to create an equivalence between its position and the position of science--putting itself on par with science, both on the "science" and in its legal positions in relation to science, and casting science as a kind of religion. Then, after creating this topsy-turvey world where religion is science and science is religion, COPE asks the question: If "origin scientists" have an equal claim to the truth, doesn't it violate equality, speech, and religious principles to exclude their position from the curriculum?
This isn't new, but as the COPE complaint and NYT piece suggest, creationism advocates may be getting a little better at clothing their positions in official- and technical-sounding langauge, and in turning the same constitutional claims that proponents of a curriculum based on science have used against creationism right back on them, in support of creationism. The strategy is designed to frame the debate as one scientific theory against another scientific theory, not science against religion, and to put the competing policy and constitutional claims on par in order to gain traction under the religion clauses, free speech, and equal protection.
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
The Sixth Circuit's succinct and unanimous opinion in Autocam Corporation v. Sebelius sided with the Third Circuit's July opinion in Conestoga Wood Specialties and against the en banc Tenth Circuit's June majority opinion in Hobby Lobby on the issue of whether a for-profit secular business has a free exercise of religion right (as a person) under RFRA, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. There is some intertwining of the First Amendment free exercise of religion claim, but the Autocam decision rests on RFRA.
Autocam, like Conestoga Wood and Hobby Lobby, and its owners, argue that the regulations under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (“ACA”) requiring employers cover contraceptive methods for their employees - - - often called the contraceptive mandate - - - infringes on their religious rights. Autocam, like the others, is a large corporation. And a quick look at Autocam's "mission" on its website indicates no expression of a religious purpose, but only providing superior products.
The Sixth Circuit interestingly found that while Autocam as a corporation had standing to assert its claims, the Kennedy family as members (owners?) of a "closely held corporation" did not have shareholder standing: "Generally, shareholders of a corporation cannot bring claims intended to redress injuries to a corporation, even when the corporation is closely held." The Kennedys argued that this rule should not apply in RFRA claims, but the court found nothing in RFRA to support their view. Further, the court rejected their claims they were individually harmed or that a "pass through" theory could be applied.
As to the merits of the corporation's assertion of personhood under RFRA, the court found that RFRA did not support such an interpretation, and moreover, "Reading the term “person” in the manner suggested by Autocam would lead to a significant expansion of the scope of the rights the Free Exercise Clause" protected prior to Employment Division v. Smith and the enactment of RFRA.
By affirming the denial of the preliminary injunction by the district judge, the Sixth Circuit panel has entered the fray of a circuit split on the issue. With its unamious opinion, it does tilt the "count" toward a nonrecognition of religious rights of secular for proft corporations (recall that the en banc Tenth Circuit opinion was closely divided and the Third Circuit panel opinion was also split; additionally earlier this month a senior district judge in the Tenth Circuit applied applied Hobby Lobby to a for-profit nursing home chain.) However, the Sixth Circuit opinion adds little new to the analysis of this issue increasingly ripe for Supreme Court review.
September 18, 2013 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Family, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Gender, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, July 11, 2013
Should a for-profit corporation have free exercise of religion rights under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the First Amendment as the en banc Tenth Circuit held in Hobby Lobby, Inc. v. Sebelius?
Hamilton ultimately contends that RFRA, at least as interpreted by the Tenth Circuit, is unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause in that it means that "large for-profit employers, who may not discriminate in hiring based on religion, can still coerce their employees into following their religious beliefs."
Hamilton's even larger argument, however, involves the relationship between religion and capitalism in our constitutional democracy. Assume, she argues, that Hobby Lobby and similar companies
assert that they don’t mind losing money from those who don’t share their religious beliefs. Or to put it another way, they really only want business from those who share their religious beliefs. That is the slippery slope on which the Tenth Circuit has set free exercise reasoning.
That isn’t capitalism, which, when working as it should, is driven by the quality of products and competition on price, regardless of the political or religious beliefs of the producer and purchaser. It is Balkanization, and a first step on the path to the religious wars we in the United States have avoided so far.
Yet perhaps the owners of Hobby Lobby is not anticipating that consumers will actually know that it is an entity with specific religious beliefs rather than simply a store selling sequins?
Whatever the beliefs of the owners of Hobby Lobby, however, Hamilton's column is a must read on the contentious issue of recognizing religious freedoms of for-profit companies.RR
Friday, June 28, 2013
Tenth Circuit Recognizes For-Profit Corporations as Having Religious Freedom and Free Exercise Rights
In the contentious and closely-watched case of Hobby Lobby, Inc. v. Sebelius, the Tenth Circuit has rendered its opinion concluding that a for-profit corporation has free exercise of religion rights under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the First Amendment.
Hobby Lobby challenges the constitutionality of the so-called "contraception mandate" under the Affordable Care Act that require health insurance plans to provide contraception coverage to employees. We've previously discussed the issue and the circuit split here.
The federal district judge had rejected Hobby Lobby's claim, noting that it was a for-profit completely secular company - - - it is a corporation operating 514 arts and crafts stores in 41 states. The federal district judge also denied the injunction as to the for-profit corporation Mardel, a Christian supply and bookstore chain, and to the family owning both the corporations through a management trust. Hobby Lobby sought extraordinary relief from the United States Supreme Court after a Tenth Circuit panel declined to issue a stay; Justice Sotomayor in her role as Tenth Circuit Justice then rejected the claim, ruling that the privately held corporations did not "satisfy the demanding standard for the extraordinary relief they seek."
The Tenth Circuit granted the request for initial en banc review - - - thus, there is no Tenth Circuit panel opinion - - - and issued a lengthy set of opinions from the eight judges, one judge being recused. The majority opinion on pages 8-9 details the rationales of the individual judges. But the essential division is 5-3 over the issue of whether a corporation, even a for-profit secular corporation, has a right to free exercise of religion under RFRA and the First Amendment. The majority concluded there was such a right and that the corporations demonstrated a likelihood of success for prevailing on the merits.
Judge Timothy Tymkovich's more than 65 page opinion for the majority concluded that
Hobby Lobby and Mardel are entitled to bring claims under RFRA, have established a likelihood of success that their rights under this statute are substantially burdened by the contraceptive-coverage requirement, and have established an irreparable harm. But we remand the case to the district court for further proceedings on two of the remaining factors governing the grant or denial of a preliminary injunction.
Only a plurality of judges would have resolved the other two preliminary injunction factors - - - balance of equities and public interest - - - in Hobby Lobby and Mardel’s favor, thus the remand.
The majority, however, held
as a matter of statutory interpretation that Congress did not exclude for-profit corporations from RFRA’s protections. Such corporations can be “persons” exercising religion for purposes of the statute. Second, as a matter of constitutional law, Free Exercise rights may extend to some for-profit organizations.
(emphasis added). The opinion often conflates RFRA (which recall, is only applicable as to federal laws) and First Amendment. However, in specifically considering First Amendment doctrine, the majority's argument derived from two strands. First, it noted that individuals may incorporate for religious purposes and keep their Free Exercise rights - - - such as churches, citing Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520, 525 (1993) (holding that a “not-for-profit corporation organized under Florida law” prevailed on its Free Exercise claim). Second, it then noted that "unincorporated individuals may pursue profit while keeping their Free Exercise rights," citing United States v. Lee, 455 U.S. 252 (1982) (considering a Free Exercise claim of an Amish employer); Braunfeld v. Brown, 366 U.S. 599 (1961) (plurality opinion) (considering a Free Exercise claim by Jewish merchants operating for-profit).
It then characterized the government's argument as being that these "Free Exercise rights somehow disappear" when "individuals incorporate and fail to satisfy Internal Revenue Code § 501(c)(3)." The majority found this distinction to be one that cannot be supported by First Amendment doctrine. It did, however, implicitly limit the facts under which for-profit corporations could be found to have free exercise rights:
The government nonetheless raises the specter of future cases in which, for example, a large publicly traded corporation tries to assert religious rights under RFRA. That would certainly seem to raise difficult questions of how to determine the corporation’s sincerity of belief. But that is not an issue here. Hobby Lobby and Mardel are not publicly traded corporations; they are closely held family businesses with an explicit Christian mission as defined in their governing principles. The Greens, moreover, have associated through Hobby Lobby and Mardel with the intent to provide goods and services while adhering to Christian standards as they see them, and they have made business decisions according to those standards. And the Greens are unanimous in their belief that the contraceptive-coverage requirement violates the religious values they attempt to follow in operating Hobby Lobby and Mardel. It is hard to compare them to a large, publicly traded corporation, and the difference seems obvious.
Thus, the majority stated that it did not share any concerns that its holding would prevent courts from distinguishing businesses that are not eligible for RFRA’s - - - and presumably the First Amendment's - - - protections.
While the analysis of substantial burden that follows is important, it is the holding that a secular for-profit corporation has a sincerely held religious belief that entitles it to assert a free exercise claim is the centerpiece of the controversy.
Indeed, Chief Judge Briscoe, joined by Judge Lucero, call the majority's opinion on this point
nothing short of a radical revision of First Amendment law, as well as the law of corporations. But whatever one might think of the majority’s views, the fact remains that they are wholly unsupported by the language of the Free Exercise Clause or the Supreme Court’s free exercise jurisprudence, and are thus, at best, “considerations for the legislative choice.”
The ability of for-profit corporations to have Free Exercise rights under the First Amendment - - - along with their Free Speech rights as articulated in the still-controversial Citizens United v. FEC, decided in 2010 and liberally cited in Hobby Lobby - - - is highly contested. This may certainly be going (back) to the United States Supreme Court.
June 28, 2013 in Campaign Finance, Congressional Authority, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Privacy, Religion, Reproductive Rights, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Sunday, June 23, 2013
The complaint in Raza v. City of New York details over 150 paragraphs of facts and alleges that NYPD practices have infringed upon the plantiffs' equal protection and First Amendment religion clauses rights, as well as state constitutional rights. The plaintiffs are United States citizens as well as Muslim community leaders, as well as two mosques and one chartitable organization. They allege that they have been "religiously profiled" and subject to surveillance, including infiltration of their organizations.
The complaint is worth reading for its specific facts of an extensive practice of surveillance of the named plaintiffs. Interestingly, the complaint does not include a Fourth Amendment claim but does include a First Amendment Establishment Clause claim, contending that the NYPD practice "fosters an excessive government entanglement with religion by, among other things, subjecting Plaintiffs to intrusive surveillance, heightened police scrutiny, and infiltration by police informants and officers." More predictable are the equal protection and free exercise of religion claims.
With the increasing public discussion of generalized surveillance, this challenge to a specific tageted practice within a city is worth watching. Of course, it is not the first time that the NYPD has been challenged for its practices of surveillance.
[image: logo of the plaintiff organization via]
June 23, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, June 14, 2013
In a divided opinion in Cressman v. Thompson, the Tenth Circuit has allowed a First Amendment compelled speech challenge to Oklahoma's license plate (pictured below).
For those familiar with Wooley v. Maynard (1977), the case seems as if it is a mere reprise. However, unlike Maynard's objection to the New Hampshire license plate motto "Live Free or Die," Cressman objects to the image on the license plate. For the dissenting judge, this distinction makes all the difference. In a nutshell, the brief dissent contends that Cressman can not clear the basic hurdle of "speech." As dissenting judge Kelly explains:
In 2009, Oklahoma changed its standard-issue license plate to incorporate a representation of Allan Houser’s “Sacred Rain Arrow,” on permanent display at Tulsa’s Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art. Though awarded the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association’s best plate of the year award for 2009, Mr. Cressman considers his display of the image on the license plate to be compelled speech. . . . .Mr. Cressman has connected the image on Oklahoma’s license plate to the sculpture and that sculpture to a Native American legend. He asserts that the license plate promotes “pantheism, panentheism, polytheism, and/or animism,” all of which are antithetical to his religious beliefs. However, he has not alleged facts from which we can reasonably infer that others are likely to make the same series of connections.
For the majority, it was sufficient that Cressman alleged that the image had an ideological message at the complaint stage. The court's analysis of symbolic speech and the "particularized message" cases - - - think flags and parades - - - supported this conclusion. The majority also discussed the compelled speech precedent. From this, the majority concluded the district judge should not have dismissed the complaint. The majority declined to enter a preliminary injunction, however, ruling that the State should have the opportunity to present its interests. The majority very clearly held, however, that Wooley v. Maynard remains viable precedent, despite some arguments that it has been undermined. The majority also very clearly held that Cressman had standing, except as to one individual defendant.
On remand, the district judge will be considering whether Cressman's plausible allegations can be proven as true.
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
A three-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit ruled yesterday in Taylor v. Roswell Independent School District that a school can ban students' distribution of rubber fetus dolls without violating free speech, free exercise, or equal protection.
The case arose when members of a student group, Relentless, distributed rubber fetus dolls to fellow students at two schools, without required administration permission. The dolls were said to have the weight and size of a 12-week-old fetus. Relentless members apparently distributed them to educate fellow students and to protest abortion. But that message only backfired:
Both schools experienced doll-related disruptions that day. Many students pulled the dolls apart, tearing the heads off and using them as rubber balls or sticking them on pencil tops. Others threw dolls and doll parts at the "popcorn" ceilings so they became stuck. Dolls were used to plug toilets.
Op. at 7-8. And on and on.
The administration stepped in and stopped the distribution, even though it allowed students to distribute other non-school-related items (like Valentine's Day items), and even though it previously permitted Relentless to distribute other things like McDonald's sandwiches to teachers. (Maybe not surprisingly, those things didn't cause the same kinds of disruptions.)
So Relentless members sued, arguing that the administration violated free speech, the Free Exercise Clause, and equal protection.
The Tenth Circuit rejected each of these claims. As to free speech, it said that the case did not involve content-based discrimination, and that nobody contested the administration's ability to confiscate dolls that were used to harm school property or for lewd or obscene expressions of their own. Instead, the case involved private, non-school-related speech, and "[a]pplying Tinker, we hold that the District did not violate Plaintiffs' free speech rights because it reasonably forecasted that distribution of the rubber dolls would lead to a substantial disruption." Op. at 16. The court also held that the pre-approval policy looked like a licensing scheme, but with plenty of procedural safeguards (inluding two appeals) and substantive constraints on official discretion--and in the special environment of a school, where the First Amendment doesn't give students the same free speech rights that they may have, say, in the public square. Finally, the court held that the pre-approval policy wasn't unconstitutionally vague, because a student of ordinary intelligence would know when he or she needs to get a license, and how. The court said that the plaintiffs failed to show any arbitrary enforcement.
As to the Free Exercise Clause, the court held that there was no evidence of discriminatory purpose on the part of the administrators--that the ban on fetal doll distribution was neutral--that therefore rational basis review applied, and that the administrators had a rational reason for banning the doll distribution--that is, stopping the "doll-related disruptions." As to equal protection, the court said that the plaintiffs couldn't show that they were treated differently than anyone else seeking to distribute items at school and so couldn't show a violation of equal protection.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Third in a Series: Guest Post by Versely Rosales, City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law, class of 2014
The brief submitted by National Association of Evangelicals; The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod; The Romanian-American Evangelical Alliance of North America; and Truth in Action Ministries supports the position of BLAG arguing for the constitutionality of DOMA.
The brief argues that rational basis review is the proper standard for evaluating legislation, like DOMA, that implicates questions of values, culture, and policy. The brief also argues that “moral and religious views voiced in support of DOMA do not detract from its validity.”
The rational basis argument:
This amicus brief first argues that rational basis governs because what is at issue in DOMA “is not a discrimination against a discrete and insular minority.” Instead, the issue is a “profound culture debate over the nature and meaning of marriage.” Further, because “homosexuals” have political power, they do not need extraordinary judicial protection from majoritarian interests. Thus, they can rely on the democratic political processes to engage in a debate over values, morals, judgments, and culture. Therefore, rational basis review is the only standard that allows for spirited democratic debate over the different visions of marriage that should prevail in the federal government. By applying anything other than rational basis, the Court would deprive the public of this debate. In particular, it would deny faith communities, who have a “long experience in these matters” and “unique perspectives,” to be heard by democratic decision makers.
Thus, the brief contends that the Second Circuit’s conclusion that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional stands on a “rickety foundation.” The Second Circuit is faulted for “creat[ing] the first new protected class in 35 years,” and being contrary to every federal court of appeals that has addressed the question. Further, this amicus brief notes several other reasons why heightened scrutiny is “plainly improper in this case.” First, heightened-scrutiny jurisprudence contains a strong presumption against creating new suspect classes as courts should be very reluctant to closely scrutinize legislative choices. Secondly, the Constitution presumes that unjust discrimination will be remedied through the ordinary democratic process. Thirdly, the Supreme Court’s refusal to recognize any new suspect classes confirms the necessity of a very cautious approach into sensitive areas.
The amicus brief of these religious organizations criticizes the Second Circuit opinion for failing to recognize that rational basis review is the proper standard of review for preserving the primacy of the democratic process in cases turning on fundamental issues of public policy, culture, and morality. DOMA is argued to be within this category because it has become monumental cultural conflict between two major visions of marriage: traditional marriage which is centered on procreating and raising children; and the more recent, genderless, adult-orientated notion where procreation and childrearing are not central to marriage’s meaning. The traditional marriage concept has deep roots and provides a mechanism for coping with the reality that sex between men and women generally results in pregnancy and childbirth. And, whether proven or not, it is reasonable to accept that children born from opposite-sex married relationships will benefit by being raised by two parents within long-term relationships. In addition, lawmakers cannot and should not rely on social science scholars on the effects of sexual minorities parenting children because, in part, such opinions are inherently tentative and often laden with value-based assumptions. Thus, lawmakers should be allowed to use their judgments and own experience, which have led them to believe that traditional marriage and family structure deserve distinctive legal protections.
The amicus brief also points out while the Court has never adopted “the genderless, adult-centered definition of marriage,” it has “long endorsed the strong legislative preference for man-woman marriage as the foundation of our society.” Given this historical preference, the Court should construe DOMA as a rational preference for the tried and familiar over the untried and novel.
The moral and religious views argument:
The second main argument of this amicus brief contends “moral and religious views voiced in support of DOMA do not detract from its validity.” Congress identified “defending traditional notions of morality” as one of the four “governmental interests” for the enactment of DOMA. The brief argues that Congress recognized that the issue of marriage has moral or religious aspects for many Americans and that cannot be divorced from the practicalities. Lawmakers have the right to protect this valued moral norm, and when they do so, it should not be labeled as invalid just because it happens to coincide with the tenets of some - - -or all - - - religions. To declare DOMA void merely because it adheres to traditional moral and religious belief would fly in the face of this Court’s ruling that the Constitution does not allow the government to treat religion and those who practice or teach it as being subversive to American ideals and therefore subject them to unique disabilities. “By scrutinizing a law reflecting, in part, religious values more severely than others, courts would effectively target such beliefs or religious support for unusual burdens or penalties.”
Interestingly, the brief ultimately argues that to subject DOMA to heightened scrutiny simply because of its “affiliation with traditional morality would raise First Amendment concerns.”
Contribution of the Brief:
This amicus brief supports the position of BLAG that DOMA is unconstitutional. But although BLAG agrees that traditional marriage coincides with religious sections of the citizenry, it does not emphasize the moral aspect of DOMA in its brief.
The Government brief does not agree with the assertion that what is at issue is a cultural debate. The Government clearly argues in its brief that DOMA is based on discrimination and it affects the distribution of benefits to a sub-section of society. The Government also disagrees with the Amicus brief’s most basic contention: Homosexuals are not a discrete and insular minority deserving of heightened scrutiny.
The argument that the First Amendment is relevant is unique; it is not shared by BLAG or the Government.
[posted and edited by RR]
March 20, 2013 in Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Family, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
In its opinion in Moore-King v. County of Chesterfield, a panel of the Fourth Circuit has upheld the constitutionality of ordinances specifically directed at those defined as "fortune tellers." The fortune tellers must have a business license, like all other businesses, but must also:
- have a special permit from the Chief of Police, the application for which must include biographical information, fingerprints, criminal history, and an authorization for a background check;
- pay a license tax of $300;
- be located within particular business districts, excluding certain other business districts.
As to the free speech claim, the Fourth Circuit disagreed with the district judge's finding that the Moore-King's practice was inherently deceptive and thus categorically excluded from First Amendment protection. In support, the panel interestingly replied upon United States v. Alvarez (the "Stolen Valor case). Yet the panel then struggled with the appropriate First Amendment doctrine that should be applied - - - a not unusual situation in First Amendment litigation - - - rejecting the commercial speech doctrine and time, place or manner analysis and settling upon what it named the "professional speech doctrine."
As the government complies with the professional speech doctrine by enacting and implementing a generally applicable regulatory regime, the fact that such a scheme may vary from profession to profession recedes in constitutional significance. Just as the internal requirements of a profession may differ, so may the government’s regulatory response based on the nature of the activity and the need to protect the public. [citation omitted] With respect to an occupation such as fortune telling where no accrediting institution like a board of law examiners or medical practitioners exists, a legislature may reasonably determine that additional regulatory requirements are necessary.
The panel then engaged in little analysis, except to say that this did not mean that the government had "carte blanche" but that it held that the government "regulation of Moore-King's activity falls squarely within the scope of that doctrine."
As to Free Exercise, the panel rejected Moore-King's qualifications to assert the claim:
Moore-King’s beliefs more closely resemble personal and philosophical choices consistent with a way of life, not deep religious convictions shared by an organized group deserving of constitutional solicitude.
In addition to the First Amendment claims, Moore-King had also challenged the regulatory scheme on the basis of Equal Protection, although this argument was largely predicated upon her First Amendment interests as the fundamental rights that would trigger strict scrutiny. Again, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district judge's grant of summary judgment in favor of the government.
This is a case ripe for critique and would make a terrific subject for student scholarship.
February 27, 2013 in Equal Protection, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Speech, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
In its opinion in Hartmann v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), a panel of the Ninth Circuit reversed in part a district judge's dismissal on a complaint by prisoners' regarding the availability of Wiccan paid-chaplain positions.
The operative policy maintained paid full-time and part-time chaplain positions only for adherents of five faiths: Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Native American, and Protestant. At the heart of the plaintiffs' claims was the allegation that there are more Wiccan prisoners at the women's prison than prisoners of the other faiths.
Interestingly, the plaintiffs did not prevail on their Free Exercise claim under the First Amendment. Affirming the district judge, the Ninth Circuit panel wrote that even accepting the allegations as true,
while Plaintiffs may be better able to exercise their religious beliefs with the assistance of a paid full-time Wiccan chaplain, it is well-settled that the First Amendment does not require prison administration to provide inmates with the chaplain of their choice. . . . The Free Exercise Clause does not require prison administration to provide Plaintiffs with more than that which they are currently receiving—i.e., the services of staff chaplains and a volunteer Wiccan chaplain.
On the other hand, the CDRC's choice to provide paid chaplains for five more established religions risks an Establishment Clause violation. The panel, assuming again that the allegations were true, held that the prison administration created staff chaplain positions for five conventional faiths, "but fails to employ any neutral criteria in evaluating whether a growing membership in minority religions warrants a reallocation of resources used in accommodating inmates’ religious exercise needs." the panel provided some guidance to the lower court (and counsel): at a minimum, a court would have to ascertain whether paid staff chaplains work only at the women's prison or are required to travel to other prisons, jails, and correction facilities in the State and there could be a survey of inmate religious affiliation in the women's prison population and the broader CDCR prison population.
The panel also considered the California constitutional claims as well as the RLUIPA, equal protection, and the proper defendants. But the case is noteworthy for its illustration of the relationship between Free Exercise and Establishment Clause challenges.
[image: Wiccan symbol via]
Friday, February 15, 2013
There's a growing split among circuit courts that have ruled on whether to grant an injunction pending appeal to private employers who object to the contraception mandate under HHS regs pursuant to the Affordable Care Act. The underlying issues--whether the mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act or free exercise--seem to be moving closer and closer to Supreme Court review.
(These issues are different than the issue in the other cases testing the mandate--by religious employers. Courts in those cases have held them in abeyance or dismissed them outright in anticipation of new HHS regs that exempt religious employers from the mandate. The regs would exempt religious employers, but not secular corporations owned by religious individuals.)
The Seventh Circuit ruled recently, for the second time, that a private employer was likely to succeed on its RFRA claim against the contraception mandate. That court in Grote v. Sebelius held that the corporation's owners' religious objections to the mandate, the government's likely failure to justify the mandate at strict scrutiny under the RFRA, and the owners' harm meant that the contraception mandate must be enjoined pending the company's appeal. The case echoes that court's earlier ruling in Korte v. Sebelius. (The difference between the two cases--that the company in Grote was self-insured, while the company in Korte wasn't--didn't justify different treatment, according to the court.) Both rulings drew dissents by Judge Rovner, but the Grote dissent was especially sharp and lengthy. In short, Judge Rovner took issue with the idea that the secular corporations enjoyed free exercise rights, even if the owners did.
The Eighth Circuit has lined up with the Seventh Circuit, while the Third, Sixth, and Tenth Circuits have gone the other way. (Recall that Justice Sotomayor denied Hobby Lobby's application for a stay in the Tenth Circuit case. The Seventh Circuit took account of that denial, but distinguished it, saying that the standard for a stay at the Supreme Court was much higher than the standard for an injunction pending appeal.)
These cases are on a motion for an injunction pending appeal, not the underlying merits. Still, they presage a merits ruling, as the courts consider the likelihood of success on the merits as part of the injunction analysis.
Thursday, February 7, 2013
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement today saying that the newly proposed HHS regulations on the contraception-coverage provision of the Affordable Care Act don't do enough to protect religious liberties. According to the statement, the Conference has three problems:
- the narrow understanding of a religious ministry;
- compelling church ministries to fund and facilitate services such as contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization that violate Catholic teaching; and
- disregard of the conscience rights of for-profit business owners.
These are the same objections the Conference lodged earlier, in March 2012, well before HHS proposed the new regs. In short, the Conference says that the HHS proposal doesn't do enough to address its original objections.
The Conference says that the proposed rules maintain an "inaccurate distinction among religious ministries" by not considering Catholic hospitals, universities, and charities as part of the Catholic ministry. In particular, the Conference objects to the "accommodation" that these institutions receive from the contraception coverage requirement--an accommodation that provides their enrollees separate contraceptive coverage, with no co-pays, and at no (direct) cost to the religious organization. The Conference seems to object both to the idea that these institutions get an "accommodation" (as opposed to a full free pass on the contraception requirement) and to the possibility that the institutions might end up indirectly paying the bill for contraception coverage even with the accommodation. As to point three, the Conference balked at the lack of exception for private business owners who, for religious reasons, object to contraception.
The statement says that the Conference will submit its concerns in the notice-and-comment period for the proposed rules.
Friday, February 1, 2013
HHS today issued proposed new rules on the contraception coverage requirement under the Affordable Care Act, including new exemptions for religious employers. The proposed rules come on the heels of a spate of litigation by religious employers challenging the contraception coverage requirement as violating their religious liberties.
The D.C. Circuit most recently rejected these claims based on the administration's promise to issue new regs exempting religious employers, but the court also retained jurisdiction over the case, holding it in abeyance, to monitor the administration's adoption of new rules. The United States District Court for D.C. similarly recently rejected the claims, but declined to retain jurisdiction and dismissed the case.
According to HHS, the proposed rules allow non-profit religious organizations that object to contraception on religious grounds to side-step the ACA's contraception mandate, but still give employees free access to contraception. Here's how it'll work:
The proposed rules lay out how non-profit religious organizations, such as non-profit religious hospitals or institutions of higher education, that object to contraception on religious grounds can receive an accommodation that provides their enrollees separate contraceptive coverage, and with no co-pays, but at no cost to the religious organization.
With respect to insured plans, including student health plans, these religious organizations would provide notice to their insurer. The insurer would then notify enrollees that it is providing them with no-cost contraceptive coverage through separate individual health insurance policies.
With respect to self-insured plans, as well as student health plans, these religious organizations would provide notice to their third party administrator. In turn, the third party administrator would work with an insurer to arrange no-cost contraceptive coverage through separate individual health insurance policies.
The proposed rules also simplify and clarify the definition of "religious employer" for the purpose of exemption from the contraceptive coverage requirement.
The proposed rules are the first step in issuing new regulations. HHS will collect comments on the rules until April 8, 2013, and then move forward on finalizing them.
Monday, January 28, 2013
Judge Amy Berman Jackson (D.D.C.) on Friday dismissed the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington's challenge to the HHS regs pursuant to the Affordable Care Act that required insurers to provide coverage for preventive care, including contraception, for women. The ruling comes on the heels of the D.C. Circuit's ruling just last month that a similar challenge was not ripe.
Judge Jackson cited the D.C. Circuit ruling, Wheaton College v. Sebelius, and ruled that the Archbishop's challenge was similarly not ripe. (Recall that the D.C. Circuit reasoned that HHS committed to changing its regs, so that the contraception requirement wouldn't cover the religious employer in that case.) The D.C. Circuit wrote, "We take the government at its word and will hold it to it." So too Judge Jackson.
Unlike the D.C. Circuit, however, Judge Jackson did not hold the case in abeyance. Instead, she outright dismissed it, writing that the Archbishop could bring a new case if and when the government enforced a contraception mandate against it.
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
In her role as Circuit Justice for the Tenth Circuit, Justice Sonia Sotomayor today rejected an application for an injunction pending appellate review from Hobby Lobby. In her brief order in Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius, Sotomayor ruled that the privately held corporations did not "satisfy the demanding standard for the extraordinary relief they seek."
Recall that in November, an Oklahoma district judge stressed that Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts store chain operating in 41 states, as well as its co-plaintiff, the Mardel corporation, were secular for-private corporations that did not possess free exercise of religion rights under the First Amendment. Judge Joe Heaton therefore denied the motion for a preliminary injunction regarding their First Amendment objections to complying with contraceptive requirements under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Sotomayor notes that the Tenth Circuit refused to issue a stay pending appeal and she saw no reason to depart from that conclusion: "Even without an injunction pending appeal, the applicants may continue their challenge to the regulations in the lower courts. Following a final judgment, they may, if necessary, file a petition for a writ of certiorari in this Court."
December 26, 2012 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Family, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, December 20, 2012
The Supreme Court of Canada this morning has issued its long-awaited opinion in R. v. N.S., 2012 SCC 72, essentially affirming the provincial Court of Appeal of Ontario 2010 conclusion regarding the wearing of a niqab (veil) by a witness in a criminal proceeding and dismissing the appeal and remanding the matter to the trial judge.
At issue is a conflict of rights that should be familiar to US conlaw scholars: the rights of a witness in a trial, here her religious rights, in opposition to the rights of the accused to a fair trial, including the right to confrontation of witnesses. The accusing witness, N.S., is a Muslim woman who wished to testify at a preliminary hearing in a criminal case in which the defendants, N.S.'s uncle and cousin, were charged with sexual assault. The defendants sought to have N.S. remove her niqab when testifying. The judge heard testimony from N.S., in which she admitted that she had removed her niqab for a driver's license photo by a woman photographer and she would remove her niqab if required at a security check. The judge then ordered N.S. to remove her niqab when testifying, concluding that her religious belief was "not that strong." This determination of the "strength" of N.S.'s belief was one of the reasons for the remand as it troubled the Supreme Court.
The majority opinion, authored by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin (pictured) and joined by three of the Court's seven Justices, began by noting the conflict of Charter rights at issue: the witness’s freedom of religion and the accused's fair trial rights, including the right to make full answer and defence. The opinion quickly rejected any "extreme approach" that would value one right over the over, as "untenable." Instead, the Court articulated the Canadian constitutional law standard of "just and proportionate balance" as:
A witness who for sincere religious reasons wishes to wear the niqab while testifying in a criminal proceeding will be required to remove it if (a) this is necessary to prevent a serious risk to the fairness of the trial, because reasonably available alternative measures will not prevent the risk; and (b) the salutary effects of requiring her to remove the niqab outweigh the deleterious effects of doing so.In turn, this involved four separate inquiries:
First, would requiring the witness to remove the niqab while testifying interfere with her religious freedom as construed by section 2(a) of the Charter, which centers on a sincere (rather than "strong") religious belief?
Second, would permitting the witness to wear the niqab while testifying create a serious risk to trial fairness? The opinion recognized the deeply rooted presumption that seeing a face is important, but noted that in litigation in which credibility or identification are not involved, failure to view the witness' face may not impinge on trial fairness.
Third, assuming both rights are engaged, the trial judge must ask "is there a way to accommodate both rights and avoid the conflict between them?"
Finally, if accommodation is impossible, the judge should engage in a balancing test, asking whether
the salutary effects of requiring the witness to remove the niqab outweigh the deleterious effects of doing so? Deleterious effects include the harm done by limiting the witness’s sincerely held religious practice. The judge should consider the importance of the religious practice to the witness, the degree of state interference with that practice, and the actual situation in the courtroom – such as the people present and any measures to limit facial exposure. The judge should also consider broader societal harms, such as discouraging niqab-wearing women from reporting offences and participating in the justice system. These deleterious effects must be weighed against the salutary effects of requiring the witness to remove the niqab. Salutary effects include preventing harm to the fair trial interest of the accused and safeguarding the repute of the administration of justice. When assessing potential harm to the accused’s fair trial interest, the judge should consider whether the witness’s evidence is peripheral or central to the case, the extent to which effective cross-examination and credibility assessment of the witness are central to the case, and the nature of the proceedings. Where the liberty of the accused is at stake, the witness’s evidence central and her credibility vital, the possibility of a wrongful conviction must weigh heavily in the balance. The judge must assess all these factors and determine whether the salutary effects of requiring the witness to remove the niqab outweigh the deleterious effects of doing so.
In sending the case back to the trial judge (and instructing judges in similar situations in the future), the Court provides guidance, yet obviously falls far short of definitive answers.
The concurring opinion of two Justices argued that a "clear rule" should be chosen. This rule should be the removal of the niqab because a trial is a "dynamic chain of events" in which a conclusion about which evidence is essential can change.
Justice Rosalie Abella (pictured right) wrote the solitary dissenting opinion. On her view, while rooted in religious freedom, wearing a veil could certainly be analogized to other types of "impediments" in which the face or other aspects of demeanor might be obscured such as when a person is blind, deaf, not an English speaker, a child, or a stroke victim. Moreover, Abella argued:
Wearing a niqab presents only a partial obstacle to the assessment of demeanour. A witness wearing a niqab may still express herself through her eyes, body language, and gestures. Moreover, the niqab has no effect on the witness’ verbal testimony, including the tone and inflection of her voice, the cadence of her speech, or, most significantly, the substance of the answers she gives. Unlike out-of-court statements, defence counsel still has the opportunity to rigorously cross-examine N.S. on the witness stand.
Abella also stressed the specifics of the case involved: a sexual assault prosecution by a young woman in which the defendants were members of her own family.
From the perspective of US conlaw scholars, whether or not interested in comparative constitutional law, the Canada Supreme Court's opinion in R. v. N.S. is an important one seeking to balance rights and addressing an issue that is percolating in the United States courts.RR
[image of niqab via; image of Justices via Canada Supreme Court website]
Monday, November 26, 2012
The Supreme Court today reopened one of the cases challenging the federal Affordable Care Act and sent it back for further proceedings at the Fourth Circuit. The move means that the lower court, and possibly the Supreme Court, will have another crack at certain issues that the Supreme Court dodged this summer in its ruling in NFIB v. Sebelius.
Recall that the Fourth Circuit rejected a challenge to the ACA by several individuals and Liberty University in September 2011, holding that the Anti-Injunction Act barred the claim. The Supreme Court declined to review that case, Liberty University v. Geithner. But today the Court reopened the case, vacated the Fourth Circuit ruling, and sent the case back for further proceedings in light of the Court's ruling in NFIB.
The plaintiffs in the case originally challenged the universal coverage provision (the so-called "individual mandate," requiring individuals to acquire health insurance or to pay a tax penalty) and the employer mandate (requiring employers with more than 50 employees to provide health insurance coverage for their employees), arguing that they exceeded Congress's taxing and commerce powers and violated the Tenth Amendment, Article I, Section 9's prohibition against unapportioned capitation or direct taxes (the Direct Tax Clause), and the Religion Clauses and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (among others). (As to the Religion Clauses, the plaintiffs argued that the requirements would cause them to support insurance companies that paid for abortions, a practice that they claimed ran against their religions.)
The district court ruled against the plaintiffs on all counts and dismissed the case. The Fourth Circuit dismissed the case under the AIA and didn't reach the merits.
The Supreme Court ruled in NFIB that the AIA did not bar the Court from ruling on the tax question, that Congress validly enacted the universal coverage provision under its Article I, Section 8 power "to lay and collect Taxes," and that it didn't violate the Direct Tax Clause. Thus after NFIB these issues appear to remain open on remand:
- Whether the mandates violate the Religion Clauses or the RFRA;
- Whether the employer mandate violates the taxing authority or the Direct Tax Clause;
- Whether the mandates violate equal protection;
- Whether the mandate violates free speech and associational rights.
As to the Religion Clauses, the district court ruled that the ACA's religious exemptions to universal coverage were permissible accommodations (and thus didn't violate the Establishment Clause) and that the ACA didn't require the plaintiffs to pay for abortions (and thus didn't violate the Free Exercise Clause or the RFRA).
As to the employer mandate: It's hard to see how the Supreme Court's tax analysis of the individual mandate in NFIB wouldn't apply with equal force to the employer mandate.
If the district court was right on the First Amendment and equal protection claims (as it seems), and if the Supreme Court's tax analysis applies with equal force to the employer mandate, this case doesn't seem to have much of a future.
But then again, that's what many of us said about NFIB.
November 26, 2012 in Abortion, Association, Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Congressional Authority, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Religion, Taxing Clause, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Sunday, November 18, 2012
Judge Reggie Walton (D.D.C.) on Friday granted plaintiffs a temporary injunction in Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. v. Sebelius stopping the Secretary from enforcing HHS regs under the Affordable Care Act that require health insurance plans to provide contraception coverage against a self-insured Christian publishing house. Judge Walton wrote that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on their Religious Freedom Restoration Act claim and that they met other requirements for a temporary injunction. The ruling, should it stand, paves the way for self-insured plaintiff-corporations to challenge the contraception requirement under the RFRA.
Tyndale House Publishers is a small Christian publishing house that operates under a Christian "statement of belief and policy" outlining its religious beliefs. It doesn't offer its employees an outside health insurance plan; instead, it's self-insured and thus pays directly for its employees' health benefits. Mark Taylor, the other named plaintiff, is Tyndale's president and CEO.
The plaintiffs balked at HHS regs, enacted under the ACA, that, with certain exemptions for religious organizations, require employers to provide contraception as part of their employee health insurance plans. Importantly, they complained only about "drugs (e.g., Plan B, ella) or devices (e.g., intrauterine devices) that can cause the demise of an already conceived/fertilized human embryo." They filed suit, arguing that the regs violated the RFRA; the Free Exercise, Establishment, and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment; the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause; and the Administrative Procedures Act.
The RFRA forbids the government from "substantially burden[ing] a person's exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability" unless the government can "demonstrate that application of the burden to the person (1) is in furtherance of a compelling government interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling government interest." 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000bb-1(a), (b).
Judge Walton first concluded that the plaintiffs had standing. He wrote that Tyndale had standing under EEOC v. Townley Eng'g & Mfg. Co., 859 F.2d 610 (9th Cir. 1988), which held that a corporation has standing to assert the free exercise rights of its owners. Alternatively, Tyndale had third-party standing to assert its primary owner's free exercise rights.
As to the substance, Judge Walton wrote that Tyndale showed a "substantial burden," because
the contraceptive coverage mandate similarly places the plaintiffs in the untenable position of choosing either to violate their religious beliefs by providing coverage of the contraceptives at issue or to subject their business to the continual risk of the imposition of enormous penalties for its noncompliance.
Op. at 22. Judge Walton distinguished O'Brien v. HHS (E.D. Mo. 2012) (holding that the plaintiff did not suffer a substantial burden, because it provided employee health insurance through a group plan), because here the self-insured plaintiff, Tyndale, would pay directly for its employees' contraception (and not indirectly, through a group plan). Judge Walton explained:
The court dismissed the plaintiffs' RFRA claim [in O'Brien], holding that the plaintiffs had failed to show that the contraceptive coverage mandate substantially burdened their religious exercise. Describing the burden at issue as the "funds, which plaintiffs will contribute to a group health plan, [that] might, after a series of independent decisions by health care providers and patients covered by [the company's] plan, subsidize someone else's participation in an activity that is condemned by plaintiffs' religion," the court reasoned that the burden on the plaintiffs' religious exercise was simply too attenuated to qualify as "substantial." . . .
Here, the plaintiffs provide direct coverage to Tyndale employees through a self-insured plan in which "Tyndale acts as its own insurer." This difference in the manner in which coverage is provided is significant because while the company in O'Brien contributes to a health insurance plan which ultimately pays for the services used by the plan participants, Tyndale itself directly pays for the health care services used by its plan participants, thereby removing one of the "degrees" of separation that the court deemed relevant in O'Brien.
Op. at 23-24.
Judge Walton also concluded that the government's compelling interests in promoting public health and providing employed women with access to health care on par with employed men wouldn't be undermined by exempting Tyndale (and therefore weren't necessary here), because the government already exempts a number of other employers. He noted that Tyndale objected only to certain kinds of contraception--Plan B, ella, and intrauterine devices--and provided some other contraceptive coverage through its health plan, and that requiring Tyndale to provide the full range of contraceptives wasn't necessary to achieve public health and equality between female and male employees.