November 8, 2013 — In the many lawsuits challenging the federal contraceptive coverage rules, only "a few" appellate courts have "correctly reject[ed] the specious religious liberty claims" from plaintiffs in the cases, a New York Times editorial states.
The editorial argues that the rules are "structured to respect the concerns of religious institutions as well as an employee's right not to be governed by the religious beliefs of her boss." Still, in a "split three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Judge Janice Rogers Brown found that the mandate 'trammels the right of free exercise' under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act" (PL 103-141). However, unlike a previous ruling against the rules, Rogers Brown "declined to endorse the absurd notion that a secular corporation is an entity capable of engaging in religion and therefore qualified to challenge the law on grounds of religious infringement," the editorial notes.
The editorial disagrees with Rogers Brown that the rules "placed a substantial burden" on the plaintiffs' religious beliefs and instead endorses a dissent written by Judge Harry Edwards, who "disputed the idea that allowing women to make their own independent decisions about using contraception interfered with the owners' religious freedom and warned that the court's ruling could be applied to justify company owners with other religious beliefs from refusing to cover preventive vaccines against diseases."
The editorial explains that the Supreme Court likely will decide by the end of the month whether it will hear cases on the issue. It is the high court's "duty ... to resolve the conflicting opinions by firmly rejecting the dangerous view that private employers can use their religious belief to discriminate against women," the editorial states (New York Times, 11/7).