October 1, 2012
Judge Rules HHS Contraception Mandate Does Not Violate Religious Freedom
Judge: "Indirect financial support of a practice" does not violate First Amendment rights.
A federal judge struck down a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Saturday, ruling that the newly implemented HHS contraception mandate does not infringe upon a Catholic business owner's First Amendment rights.
Missouri federal district court judge Carol E. Jackson ruled against O’Brien Industrial Holdings (OIH), a secular, for-profit company that does not qualify for the mandate's religious employer exemption, although the owner is Catholic. In her ruling, Jackson stated that “indirect financial support of a practice, from which a plaintiff himself abstains according to his religious principles” does not violate the owner’s freedom of religion.
“Plaintiffs remain free to exercise their religion, by not using contraceptives and by discouraging employees from using contraceptives,” she stated.
OIH had argued that requiring the company to contribute to a general health care plan—and thus potentially indirectly providing contraceptives to female employees—infringed upon the owner’s religious exercise rights under the First Amendment.
The lawsuit had asked the court to declare that the HHS mandate violates the First Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.
But the court dismissed all claims against HHS, calling the Affordable Care Act a “neutral law of general applicability” that does not discriminate against companies with less-formal religious affiliations. The court stated that the employer’s responsibility to contribute to a general health care plan, which may subsidize an employee’s purchase of birth control, is not equivalent to “compelled speech,” as OIH had argued.
CT has covered the dozens of lawsuits against the HHS mandate, including cases brought by evangelical-owned Hobby Lobby and Catholic-owned Triune Health Group.