U.S. legislators come to Hobby Lobby's defense in contraception lawsuit

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 20 2013 7:55 p.m. MST

The congressional brief states that Congress created RFRA as a "super-statute" to cut across all federal laws that burden the free exercise of religion and to protect religious freedom from special interest politics. They point out how an attempt during debate of the bill to restrict the religious rights of prison inmates was rejected, vindicating "the one-rule-for-everybody principle reflected in RFRA’s text and structure."

To override RFRA's blanket protection, the government must show a law furthers a compelling government interest and uses the least restrictive means of applying that law.

The government included contraception, along with several other services, in the ACA's preventative health care mandate to promote women's health. The services are to be provided for free through worker health care plans. The government has also proposed third parties can provide contraception coverage for religious employers who object to contraception.

But the legislators contend the administration undermined its compelling interest and violated RFRA when it decided to exempt some religious employers from the contraception mandate and not others. Churches and some nonprofits are exempt, but most religiously affiliated schools and hospitals along with all for-profit businesses, like Hobby Lobby, must comply or face fines.

The brief also argues that corporations were intended to be protected under RFRA.

"Congress could have carved out such a category of unprotected 'persons' in RFRA itself or in a later statute, but it did not," the brief states. "And this judicially created carve-out is directly contrary to one of the primary reasons Congress enacted RFRA in the first place: to prevent those charged with implementing the law from picking and choosing whose exercise of religion is protected and whose is not."

In a motion opposing Hobby Lobby's request to block enforcement of the mandate, the government offers a different interpretation of RFRA, saying Congress intended for the law to apply only to religious employers that "rely on religion as a reason to deny employees protections of federal law" and not to private corporations.

The government said granting Hobby Lobby an exemption to the birth control mandate would have far-reaching implications. "(Hobby Lobby's) position would extend to for-profit, secular employers the very prerogatives that Congress — and the Constitution — have reserved for religious employers alone, and it would undermine a wide array of measures that protect the general welfare through corporate regulation."

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