The delivery trucks of Ohio-based Freshway Foods bear signs stating, “It’s not a choice, it’s a child,” as a way to publicly promote the owners’ pro-life views to the public. It wasn’t too surprising, then, that the company and it’s owners, Francis and Philip Gilardi, would be opposed to the Obamacare’s requirement that the health coverage for their nearly 400 full-time workers include abortifacients.
The American Center for Law and Justice helped the Gilardi’s challenge the mandate, arguing that the mandate violated their religious liberties. Today, the D.C. Circuit Court agreed and handed down a ruling that the requirement “trammels” the expression of religious freedom. In the majority opinion the judges ask, “What exactly is the government trying to ameliorate?”
The contraceptive mandate demands that owners like the Gilardis meaningfully approve and endorse the inclusion of contraceptive coverage in their companies’ employer- provided plans, over whatever objections they may have. Such an endorsement—procured exclusively by regulatory ukase—is a “compel[led] affirmation of a repugnant belief.” See id. That, standing alone, is a cognizable burden on free exercise. And the burden becomes substantial because the government commands compliance by giving the Gilardis a Hobson’s choice. They can either abide by the sacred tenets of their faith, pay a penalty of over $14 million, and cripple the companies they have spent a lifetime building, or they become complicit in a grave moral wrong. If that is not “substantial pressure on an adherent to modify his behavior and to violate his beliefs,” we fail to see how the standard could be met.
The Obama administration will likely appeal the decision. But for now this is a substantial win for fans of both religious liberty and prudent legal reasoning.