Conflicting Michigan Rulings on Contraception Mandate


There are so many different legal challenges to the Obama administration’s contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act that it’s hard to keep up with them all (and I’m not really trying, only taking note of a few). But in Michigan, we now have conflicting rulings from two different district courts and a split ruling from the appeals court.

In the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan won a preliminary injunction forbidding enforcement of the law against his property management company, Domino’s Farms. You can read that ruling here. But in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, another federal judge has made the opposite ruling, denying a preliminary injunction. You can read that ruling here. And the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that denial in a 2-1 decision. You can read that ruling here.

One of the key disputes is whether the courts have to accept a plaintiff’s claims that the law constitutes a substantial burden on their religious freedom or whether the judges have to do an inquiry into whether that’s true or not. In the Monaghan case, Judge Lawrence Zatkoff said:

Monaghan contends that his compliance with the mandate would require him to violate his religious beliefs because the mandate forces him, and/or the corporation he controls, to pay for, provide, facilitate, or otherwise support contraception, sterilization and to some extent, abortion….

The Supreme Court has held that “putting substantial pressure on an adherent to modify his behavior and to violate his beliefs” substantially burdens a person’s exercise of religion…. [T]he Court is in no position to decide whether and to what extent Monaghan would violate his religious beliefs by complying with the mandate…. Other courts have assumed that a law substantially burdens a person’s free exercise of religion based on that person’s assertions.

But In the Autocam case in the Western District, Judge Robert Jonker said:

Plaintiffs argue, in essence, that the Court cannot look beyond their sincerely held assertion of a religiously based objection to the mandate to assess whether it actually functions as a substantial burden on the exercise of religion. But if accepted, this theory would mean that every government regulation could be subject to the compelling interest and narrowest possible means test of RFRA based simply on an asserted religious basis for objection. This would subject virtually every government action to a potential private veto based on a person’s ability to articulate a sincerely held objection tied in some rational way to a particular religious belief. Such a rule would paralyze the normal process of governing, and threaten to replace a generally uniform pattern of economic and social regulation with a patchwork array of theocratic fiefdoms.

RFRA is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allows individuals and organizations to ask for an exemption from a generally applicable law if that law imposes a substantial burden on their free exercise of religion. The plaintiffs in the Autocam case quickly appealed the denial of the preliminary injunction to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and a panel there upheld the district court’s denial of that injunction by a 2-1 margin.

There is one key difference between the two cases, which is that Autocam self-insures and gives its employees $1500 a year for a health care savings account. The fact that their employees can already use that money to purchase contraception coverage, thereby “forcing” the company to indirectly fund what they claim is a substantial burden on their religious freedom figured in the district court’s ruling. Domino’s Farms, on the other hand, have a conventional group insurance policy.

Comments

  1. sqlrob says

    I don’t remember if it was the Domino’s or Hobby Lobby, but the existing plan already had the contraception coverage.

    Sincerely held my ass.

  2. gshelley says

    But if accepted, this theory would mean that every government regulation could be subject to the compelling interest and narrowest possible means test of RFRA based simply on an asserted religious basis for objection. This would subject virtually every government action to a potential private veto based on a person’s ability to articulate a sincerely held objection tied in some rational way to a particular religious belief. Such a rule would paralyze the normal process of governing, and threaten to replace a generally uniform pattern of economic and social regulation with a patchwork array of theocratic fiefdoms.

    This seems so obvious that I would expect most courts to agree. I would also expect the Supreme court to go this way, especially if people such as Scalia are consistent to their previous rulings

  3. raven says

    It won’t be long before some religious cult decides it against god’s plan to pay taxes.

    Oh wait. They already exist.

    The Sovereign Citizens movement led by the Embassy of Heaven church among others.

    The most famous living one is probably Kent Hovind, doing 8 1/2 years for income tax evasion. The most famous dead one is Timothy McVeigh, who set off a truck bomb in Oklahoma, killing over a hundred people.

  4. says

    There is also Grote v. Sibelius, in the Southern District of Indiana. There the court said that the substantial burden must be a direct burden, and that the indirectness of the way the insurance worked just wasn’t good enough to invalidate the act.

  5. raven says

    Wasn’t Monaghan the guy who wanted to build a Catholic only town in Fl?

    Already done. And a fundie Catholic bible college and law school, Ave Maria or some such.

  6. eric says

    What a mess, brought on by our legislator’s unwillingness or inability to develop a tax-based health care system.

    It won’t be long before some religious cult decides it against god’s plan to pay taxes. Oh wait. They already exist.

    And their treatment is another reason to shift to a tax-based system. Not only does it avoid all the legal wrangling, it kicks the legs out from underneath the principle argument. Everyone (sane) accepts that some of one’s taxes will go to support things the individual doesn’t like.

  7. matty1 says

    RFRA is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allows individuals and organizations to ask for an exemption from a generally applicable law if that law imposes a substantial burden on their free exercise of religion.

    I fail to see the justification for such a law. If a law is an unacceptable violation of personal freedom then it is a violation regardless of whether the freedom you want to exercise is motivated by religion or not.

  8. TGAP Dad says

    It is notable for me that the court in Monaghan applied RFRA when in fact Monaghan’s own practice of religion remains unimpeded by the ACA’s contraception mandate. He is arguing for a right to impose his religious mandates on others. I don’t know what “Domino’s Farms” is, but I don’t think it’s a religious organization which would qualify it for an exemption from the contraception mandate. So it would follow that his argument is that a secular organization be able to impose a religious mandate upon its employees. Good thing he’s not a Jehova’s Witness. Or a Christian Scientist. Or Scientologist.

  9. DaveL says

    I don’t remember if it was the Domino’s or Hobby Lobby, but the existing plan already had the contraception coverage.

    Sincerely held my ass.

    I really don’t want courts to start interrogating people to determine if their articulated religious beliefs are sincerely held or not. That really shouldn’t fall within the government’s sphere. Rather, I don’t think there ought to be special exceptions allowed for religious beliefs. As matty1 so deftly puts it:

    If a law is an unacceptable violation of personal freedom then it is a violation regardless of whether the freedom you want to exercise is motivated by religion or not.

  10. says

    Didn’t some people oppose interracial marriage for (allegedly) religious reasons? Would such a person get to challenge an insurance plan that “forces” him to pay for insurance claims made by the black spouse of a white colleague?

    And what if the Mor[m]ons go back to their previously held belief about black people? Would they get to complain that compliance with the Bill of Rights violates their deeply-held religious beliefs?

  11. sqlrob says

    @DaveL:

    I agree, get rid of the exemption. It’s just interesting that “We can’t do ObamaCare because it violates our beliefs”, yet their own policy violated those beliefs for years. Fancy that. They didn’t care before, yet they do now.

  12. says

    Well, just so folks know, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the RFRA in Cutter v. Wilkinson. However, it is not considered a blank check. A rule is still upheld if it meets a compelling state interest (and, for instance, a uniform tax system is compelling, along with maintaining security in prisons). The act also says that the government may not “substantially” burden a person’s exercise of religion. When it comes to substantially, “[A] ‘substantial burden’ must place more than an inconvenience on religious exercise; a ‘substantial burden’ is akin to significant pressure which directly coerces the religious adherent to conform his or her behavior accordingly.” And exercise of religion is pretty broadly defined. “The term “religious exercise” includes any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.” That is so broad that I suspect even an atheist could have a system of religious belief (leaving aside questions of the hair color of the bald :-)).

  13. D. C. Sessions says

    Quite a few religions object to unmarried women bearing children, too. How are their practitioners regarding obstetrical coverage for their unmarried employees?

    Oh, wait — never heard of that one before. Seems maybe their objection to the contraceptive mandate may be coming from something other than religious objections to their employees’ sex lives. Hooda thunkit?

  14. divalent says

    Can a corporation have religious beliefs? And if so, who determines what they are? Management? Vote of the shareholders?

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