Apellate victory for Affordable Care Act mandate that employers cover birth control

The introductory paragraphs of the Third Circuit's opinion in Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. HHS sum it up: A Mennonite-owned wood-manufacturing business and the family that owns it

allege that regulations promulgated by the Department of Health and Human Services, which require group health plans and health insurance issuers to provide coverage for contraceptives, violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb, and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. . . . Before we can even reach the merits of the First Amendment and RFRA claims, we must consider a threshold issue: whether a for-profit, secular corporation is able to engage in religious exercise under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and the RFRA. As we conclude that forprofit, secular corporations cannot engage in religious exercise, we will affirm the order of the District Court.

The 2-1 opinion contains a footnote noting that "the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, in an eight judge en banc panel, in six separate opinions, recently held that for-profit, secular corporations can assert RFRA and free exercise claims in some circumstances. See Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius, No. 12-6294, 2013 WL 3216103 (10th Cir. June 27, 2013)." The majority distinguishes the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, explaining that, in contrast to speech, religion is not something that courts have historically found corporations (at least non-church corporations) to be capable of exercising.

Worth keeping an eye on this case; the Supreme Court might want the last word.

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