Saturday, April 2, 2016
Briton Jacob Myer (JD Candidate, Southern University Law Center) recently posted "In Pursuit of Religious Freedom: The RFRA and How It Applies to Non-Profit Organizations and Their Objections to the Accommodation of the Affordable Care Act Contraception Mandate" to SSRN:
The Hobby Lobby case decided by the Supreme Court back in 2014 determined the rights of for-profit corporations to refuse to provide certain contraceptives guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act in their employee’s health insurance plans. Hobby Lobby had argued their case under the three-part test of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, claiming that the government-mandated provision of certain contraceptives substantially burdened its free exercise of religion. The Supreme Court with a narrow majority agreed with Hobby Lobby, finding a substantial burden existed due to Hobby Lobby’s limited options. In dicta, the Court noted the accommodation to the contraceptive mandate as a viable option to relieve Hobby Lobby of its substantial burden. This dicta gave birth to a new wave of contraceptive-mandate cases.
The Supreme Court will soon decide the new contraceptive-mandate issue in Zubik V. Burwell. As a consolidation of several cases, plaintiffs in this round of contraceptive controversy are all non-profit organizations who object on religious grounds not just to the contraceptive mandate but also to the accommodation process created for religious non-profit organizations by the government. This process requires the objecting non-profit to either notify by form the department of Health and Human Services (HHS) or, by form, notify its health-insurance provider.
These non-profit plaintiffs have the same argument as Hobby Lobby with a twist. They argue that the notification requirements make them complicit in the provision of the contraceptives that they find to be religiously abhorrent. In turn, the non-profits claim that once they notify either HHS or their insurance provider, they have essentially become facilitators of the provision of these contraceptives. Because they can either provide the coverage they find objectionable, give notification they find objectionable, or drop coverage and be subject to fines, the plaintiffs claim the government has placed a substantial burden on their exercise of religion. Thus, the question for the Court is whether a substantial burden is being imposed on the plaintiffs and if so has the government employed the least restrictive means of achieving its compelling interest in protecting the health of women. To answer the first question, this Article examines the historical interpretation by the Supreme Court of what constitutes a substantial burden since the RFRA’s enactment in 1993. This is critical in determining whether the plaintiffs will pass the first prong of the RFRA action and place the burden on the government to show its compelling interest and that it employed the least restrictive means. In answering the second question, this Article looks to the Hobby Lobby case discussion of least-restrictive means to determine if the government’s accommodation scheme will pass the least-restrictive-means test. With the recent death of Justice Scalia, these questions could go either way. The author believes this article gives insight into how the Court should and will decide to usher in this new era of RFRA litigation.