Court upholds contraception mandate

A federal appeals court sided with the Obama administration against a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

By Bob Allen

A federal appeals court ruled Sept. 17 that a for-profit manufacturing corporation must provide workers with health insurance that includes no-cost birth control even if it violates the religious teaching of the owners.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the Roman Catholic family that owns controlling interest in Autocam, a Michigan business that produces automotive and medical supplies. The family filed a lawsuit objecting to the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare on religious grounds.

The court said a secular, for-profit company is not a person that can exercise religion under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

barry lynn“Religious liberty is for people, not Big Business,” said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “No corporation should ever be able to tell its employees that they can’t have access to contraceptive coverage simply because it offends the boss’ religious views.”

The Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission supported Autocam and the Kennedy family in a friend-of-the-court brief written by the Christian Legal Society. Along with other groups including Prison Fellowship and the National Association of Evangelicals, the ERLC brief argued that exemptions for “religious employers” in the Affordable Care Act are inadequate to protect religious liberty.

Passed by Congress in 1993, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act says the government cannot “substantially burden a person's exercise of religion” without a compelling interest and by the least restrictive means.

Courts have differed over whether the law applies to corporations. In June the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the owners of Hobby Lobby can continue their lawsuit claiming the contraceptive mandate violates their Southern Baptist faith, because it includes methods of birth control that take effect after conception has occurred.

In the Autocam case, however, the 6th Circuit found “strong indications that Congress did not intend to include corporations primarily organized for secular, profit-seeking purposes as ‘persons’ under RFRA,” and that siding with the Kennedys “would lead to a significant expansion of the scope” of free-exercise rights recognized by the courts.