A federal district court judge in St. Louis has dismissed a religious business owner's challenge to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate that requires religious employers (other than churches or other houses of worship) to provide coverage for "free" contraceptives, sterilization services, and abortion inducing-drugs. Judge Carol Jackson said that this mandate does not impose a "substantial burden" on Frank O'Brien's exercise of religion. Yet if O'Brien decides that he cannot in good conscience comply with this mandate, he will be subject to "a $100 per day tax for every employee" and "annual fines of $2000 for every employee." (See footnote 8 of opinion on page 5.)
O'Brien's complaint points out that the mandate forces him to choose between following his beliefs and paying stiff fines. His legal challenge is based on the First Amendment, the Administrative Procedures Act, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). An online St. Louis news service reports that O'Brien plans to appeal.
Law professor Rob Vischer points out here that if upheld, Judge Jackson's reasoning would mean that the government could force the Catholic Church (or any other religious body) "to pay for its employees' abortions without creating a substantial burden on religious exercise." According to Ed Whelan's analysis, Judge Jackson's rationale is highly questionable because it means that neither the First Amendment nor RFRA requires the government to provide even the very narrow exemption that the HHS mandate allows for churches and other houses of worship.
See the full story in St. Louis Post-Dispatch