Federal District Court in DC Grants Preliminary Injunction Against Enforcement of Contraception Mandate

Another victory for plaintiffs challenging the ACA’s Contraception Mandate: on Friday, a federal district court in Washington, D.C., granted a preliminary injunction to Tyndale House, a publishing company that had challenged the mandate under RFRA.

The court ruled that Tyndale House, a small, closely-held firm with a pervasively Christian corporate culture, had standing to bring a RFRA claim on two alternative theories, either as the alter-ego of its owners or as a third-party representative of the primary owner, the Tyndale Foundation. On the merits, Tyndale House had shown its RFRA claim was very likely to succeed. The mandate substantially burdened the firm’s exercise of religion by forcing it to cover contraceptives that violated its religious beliefs or face “enormous” financial penalties. The government, for its part, had failed to show a compelling interest to justify this burden. Although public health and women’s equal access to healthcare were both, broadly speaking, compelling interests, the government had not shown why those interests required this plaintiff to cover the contraceptives in question. The  court stressed that Tyndale House had objected only to certain contraceptives, not all, and that the government had already exempted many other firms from the mandate.The court briefly discussed the “irreparable harm,” “balance of the equities,” and “public interest” tests, and ruled in favor of Tyndale House on each.

So far, there have been four district court decisions on the legality of the mandate as it applies to for-profit companies: three have granted plaintiffs preliminary injunctions, one has not. Friday’s case is Tyndale House Publishers v. Sebelius (D.D.C., Nov. 16, 2012).

Ahdar on Regulating Religious Coercion

Rex Ahdar  (U. of Otago, NZ) has posted Regulating Religious Coercion. The abstract follows (NB: article is behind a paywall).

This Article examines the nature and regulation of religious coercion. Direct religious coercion denotes situations where the government expressly applies sanctions to ensure conformity with religious goals. Indirect religious coercion describes situations where, although the state may not have intended to pressure citizens to comply with or participate in some religious activity, it nonetheless takes advantage of social, psychological or peer pressure that has the same conformity-inducing effect. Indirect religious coercion is a real problem for those who dissent from majoritarian religious practices. But an open-ended inquiry into it can, as critics point out, be a highly unpredictable and subjective exercise. On balance, the Article concludes that the concept does deserve recognition by the courts. The Article develops a modified indirect coercion test to guide judges in First Amendment cases. A two-step test is expounded to streamline the inquiry, identify the key criteria, and render the test more workable.

Beschle on a Broad Free Exercise and a Narrow Definition of Religion

Donald L. Beschle  (John Marshall Law School) has posted Does a Broad Free Exercise Right Require a Narrow Definition of “Religion”? The introduction follows.

In the 1990 case of Employment Division v. Smith, a sharply divided Supreme Court abandoned the routine application of strict scrutiny when considering Free Exercise Clause claims seeking exemption from generally applicable legal duties or prohibitions. The Court returned to an older view of the Free Exercise Clause as protecting believers only from government acts that were aimed specifically at beliefs, and that grew out of hostility to the religion rather than a desire to further legitimate secular goals.

Reaction to Smith was largely negative, and legislative and state court responses followed, seeking to restore strict scrutiny as the appropriate standard when a free exercise exemption was denied. Smith was seen as an unfortunate decision reflecting insensitivity to the significance of the free exercise right. This article explores the possibility that Smith may have been less the result of that insensitivity than it was a response to the vast expansion of the concept of religion in constitutional law since the Court’s first free exercise decisions employing strict scrutiny. This expansion made the application of strict scrutiny, at least as it is normally understood, wildly impractical.

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