Monday, 26 August 2013 10:03
By Sean McLean
A family-owned, for-profit manufacturer of wood cabinets and wood specialty products, the owners of which were practicing Mennonite Christians, offered a health insurance plan covering women’s preventive expenses, such as pregnancy-related care, routine gynecological care, and testing for sexually transmitted diseases, but excluded coverage for contraceptive prescription drugs or drugs used to abort a pregnancy. Based on the teachings of the Mennonite Church, the family owners of the manufacturer believed it would be sinful for them to pay for or otherwise contribute to the manufacturer’s employees’ access to such drugs. Faced with the prospect of having to offer coverage for such health care expenses, the manufacturer filed suit against various government officials and agencies seeking a court declaration the Contraception Mandate violated its religious freedom.
The manufacturer in this case is one of many for-profit companies who have challenged the Contraception Mandate on these grounds. Like the non-profit religious organizations, these employers contend the required facilitation of, and contribution toward, particular methods of contraception encompassed by the Contraception Mandate conflict with their religious beliefs. However, because these companies are for-profit, they are ineligible for the exemption provided to non-profit religious organizations. Accordingly, these employers are generally faced with the option of providing coverage for contraception methods in violation of their religious beliefs, or paying significant financial penalties. Faced with this dilemma, many of these employers, like the manufacturer here, have turned to the court system in search of relief from the Contraception Mandate pursuant to the Fee Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
The manufacturer argued the operation of the company in accordance with its religious beliefs constitutes the exercise of religion under the Free Exercise Clause, and being forced to provide coverage required by the Contraception Mandate substantially burdens the exercise of their religion, which is prohibited by the First Amendment. The court recognized neither the Supreme Court nor the Third Circuit Court of Appeals had declared whether corporations possess the religious rights held by individuals. Although corporations enjoy some of the same freedoms as individuals, the court determined there was no historical support that a secular, for-profit corporation possesses the right to free exercise of religion. Accordingly, the court concluded the manufacturer could not challenge the Contraception Mandate as violating the Free Exercise Clause, as the Contraception Mandate, which applies to the for-profit company, did not inhibit the free exercise of the personally held religious beliefs of the company’s owner.
Several of these cases have been heard in a number of jurisdictions since the implementation of the Contraception Mandate. Until recently, there was an even split among the circuit courts regarding this matter, with two circuits ruling in favor of the for-profit employers and two circuits ruling against the for-profit employers. However, the court here broke this tie by ruling against the manufacturer.