Friday, December 28, 2012

District Court Finds Contraceptive Mandate Does Not Substantially Burden Religious Exercise

Yesterday in Grote Industries, LLC v. Sebelius, (SD IN, Dec. 27, 2012), an Indiana federal district court refused to grant a preliminary injunction to a for-profit business that manufactures vehicle safety systems and its Catholic owners who claim that their religious liberty rights are infringed by the contraceptive coverage mandate under the Affordable Care Act.  The company currently operates a self-insured health plan that excludes coverage for abortifacient drugs, contraception, and sterilization for its 464 full-time employees.  The plan is not a grandfathered one, so that the coverage requirements take effect on Jan. 1.  Focusing on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act challenge, the court held that the mandate does not impose a substantial burden on plaintiffs' free exercise rights. Citing in particular the O'Brien case, a recent Missouri federal district court decision reaching the same conclusion (see prior posting), the court concluded that the burden imposed by the mandate "is likely too remote and attenuated to be considered a substantial burden." It held that its analysis is not changed by the fact that here the plan is a self-insured one.

Acknowledging that Plaintiffs object not just to the use of contraceptives, but to furnishing coverage for them, the court quoted O'Brien's language:
RFRA is a shield, not a sword.  It protects individuals from substantial burdens on religious exercise that occur when the government coerces action one’s religion forbids, or forbids action one’s religion requires; it is not a means to force one’s religious practices upon others. RFRA does not protect against the slight burden on religious exercise that arises when one’s money circuitously flows to support the conduct of other free-exercise-wielding individuals who hold religious beliefs that differ from one’s own...
The court added:
We can imagine a wide variety of individual behaviors that might give rise to religiously-based scruples or opposition, such as alcohol consumption or using drugs or tobacco, or homosexual-related behaviors, all of which can threaten health conditions requiring treatment and care.  If the financial support for health care coverage of which Plaintiffs complain constitutes a substantial burden, secular companies owned by individuals objecting on religious grounds to such behaviors, including those businesses owned by individuals objecting on religious grounds to all modern medical care, could seek exemptions from employer-provided health care coverage for a myriad of health care needs, or for that matter, for any health care at all to its employees.
The court went on to reject 1st Amendment free exercise, establishment clause and free speech challenges, as well as due process and Administrative Procedure Act claims.  It found that the mandate is likely a neutral law of general applicability. It rejected a "compelled speech" argument saying that any subsidy for education and counseling services merely involves speech incidental to the conduct of receiving health care.