Government may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person—
(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and
(2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.
(c) Judicial relief
A person whose religious exercise has been burdened in violation of this section may assert that violation as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding and obtain appropriate relief against a government. Standing to assert a claim or defense under this section shall be governed by the general rules of standing under article III of the Constitution.
Ironically this Act was sparked by a Supreme Court decision Employment Division v. Smith, where the Supreme Court upheld a decision of the State of Oregon to deny unemployment benefits to two Indians fired from their jobs at a rehab center due to testing positive for Mescaline. The Indians claimed that they tested positive for Mescaline due to using peyote in a religious ceremony. To redress this decision and other infringements on religious liberty, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 passed unanimously in the House and with only three dissenting votes in the Senate.
The main issue to be decided by the Court was whether the Act applied to corporations. The Court ruled that it did to closely held corporations, that is to corporations whose stock is not publicly traded. The Court declined to rule on whether mandating that employers pay for contraception is a compelling government interest, but found that the contraceptive mandate failed on the prong of the Act requiring that the government action be the least burdensome way, in regard to infringement on religious liberty, for it to accomplish its goal. The Court mused that the government could have simply decided to pay directly for the contraception coverage, but held that the rule promulgated by HHS that allows religious non-profits to opt out of coverage by certifying that the coverage violates its religious principles, indicated that a less burdensome option could have been crafted for for-profit closely held corporations with religious scruples. Thus the contraceptive mandate was held to be in violation of the law as applied to Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties.
Although painted by the media as a case involving contraception, the case actually was an abortion case, as the objection was to contraceptives that acted as abortifacients.
The decision was 5-4 which is absolutely stunning, and demonstrates how religious liberties are hanging by a thread in this country. For many on the left, the only religious liberty Americans should enjoy is freedom of worship, for now. Outside of the walls of a place of worship religion is to be rendered a nullity. The contraceptive mandate was devised by the Obama administration as a means to gin up his female vote in 2012 by offering “free” contraceptive coverage, religious liberties be hanged. It is a melancholy fact that but for one vote this mandate would now be held to impose no limitation whatsoever on religious freedom.
It is time for all Americans to recall these words of Abraham Lincoln in a public meeting he organized in Springfield, Illinois on June 12, 1844 in the wake of anti-Catholic riots in Philadelphia. The meeting adopted this resolution proposed by Lincoln: