A court in Houston has sided with the East Texas Baptist University with regards to the Health and Human Services contraceptives mandate. The court ruled that the mandate, which requires employers to provide free access through health insurance to contraceptives, violates federal civil rights laws. The case is the ninth of twelve cases involving non-profit group challenges to the mandate.
It was found that when it comes to enforcing the health care reform law, the government has not been giving equal status to all organizations. Some religious groups (mainly churches) have been granted exemptions, but groups that merely identify with a particular set of religious beliefs, such as for-profit employers, have been required to comply with the mandate, despite the fact that the use of contraceptives violates their religious beliefs.
It seems that the government is choosing what the First Amendment defines as “freedom of religion”. Obviously, a church is a manifestation of a particular religious belief. But according to the government, a business whose owners hold to a particular set of beliefs, does not qualify as a demonstration of freedom of religion. And that is the main point of these lawsuits – that one does not have to be a church to be able to receive the legal benefits set forth by the separation of Church and State. With the government losing cases brought forth by businesses, schools, and other organizations, it will only be a matter of time before it becomes apparent that this mandate, in its present form, is a violation of First Amendment rights of these same organizations.
There are currently 89 other lawsuits pending concerning the Constitutionality of the mandate, with the largest cases being brought by Hobby Lobby, set to be argued before the Supreme Court in March. A win in that case could radically change how this HHS mandate is perceived, and may pave the way for drastic changes to the requirements for employers to provide access to contraceptives, allowing groups that hold to a set of religious beliefs, which they use to operate their business, to receive exemptions from the law.