July 1 was a momentous day for religious organizations across the United States. That is the day that those organizations which refuse to abide by the portion of the Affordable Care Act known as the Health and Human Services mandate will be required to pay millions of dollars in fines. The mandate requires all U.S. employers who sponsor a health insurance plan to provide access to contraceptives and abortions. These organizations are objecting to the mandate based solely on religious grounds, that is, that the mandate is in direct violation of the religious beliefs by which the organization is run.
Some of these organizations are obviously religions – a Catholic Archdiocese here, a Christian university there – and it should come as no surprise that they are choosing not to abide by the law. Many Christian religious bodies hold to the doctrine that contraceptives and abortions are sinful and should never be used. Many of these religious employers have been successful in filing lawsuits against the U.S. Government, and have been deemed exempt from the mandate. But some have not been as successful, and are facing the prospect of extensive fines, either while they wait for their lawsuit to be completed, or because they have lost their lawsuit. Either way, an obviously religious organization is exempt from these laws because of their Constitutional Right to freely practice religion.
Many of the organizations in opposition to the law are not obviously religious. However, many business owners choose to operate their business through their deeply-held religious beliefs. There are numerous Christian businesses in the U.S. which are closed on Sundays, the Christian day of rest. Other business owners may not be so obvious in their beliefs, but still operate based on Jewish, Islamic, or Christian belief structures. These businesses are an extension of the persons who own and operate them, and therefore are to be afforded the same freedom of religion as their operators. The First Amendment does not cease to apply when a business owner gets into their car to drive from home to work.
Whether the tie to religion is obvious or more subtle, employers across the United States are eagerly watching for the outcomes of numerous lawsuits, and watching as the tide shifts more in their favor with each lawsuit that is decided in favor of the employer. But the July 1 date looms large in front of them, and each is hoping that a landmark lawsuit will set the precedence for all other cases, and allow these establishments to freely practice their religious beliefs as they see fit.