Howard Friedman, Religion Clause
In Sharpe Holdings, Inc. v. United States Department of Health and Human Services, (ED MO, Dec. 31, 2012), a Missouri federal magistrate judge issued a temporary restraining order barring enforcement of the Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage mandate to require a for-profit dairy farming and cheese making business to cover abortifacient devices ( Plan B, Ella and copper IUDs) and related counseling. In addition to the company, plaintiffs in the case were Charles Sharpe, the founder-owner and CEO of the company, and two employees who “pay a portion of the required premiums and enjoy the benefits of the self-insured program.” In addition to concluding that under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act the mandate and its penalties would substantially burden plaintiffs’ free exercise rights, the court held that for 1st Amendment purposes, the mandate is not a neutral law of general applicability:
Plaintiffs have shown to the court’s satisfaction for the purposes of these initial proceedings, that the ACA mandate is not generally applicable because it does not apply to grandfathered health plans, religious employers, or employers with fewer than fifty employees. Specifically, plaintiffs argue that the ACA mandate’s exemptions clearly prefer secular purposes over religious purposes and some religious purposes over other religious purposes. Burdens cannot be selectively imposed only on conduct motivated by religious belief.