Oct 29, 2013

A Florida company that manufactures electrical products cannot exercise religion and therefore cannot exempt itself from the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, Americans United has told a federal appeals court.In a friend-of-the-court brief filed yesterday with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Americans United and allies argued that as a secular, for-profit corporation, the Largo-based Beckwith Electric Company must comply with the contraception mandate. The company is owned by Thomas Beckwith, a devout Southern Baptist with a moral objection to the use of emergency contraceptives. Currently, exemptions to the mandate are permitted only for houses of worship and religious non-profits.

Americans United Executive Director the Rev. Barry W. Lynn said Beckwith is entitled to his personal beliefs, but he cannot force those beliefs on others.“No secular corporation should be able to deny its employees fair access to necessary medication, including birth control,” Lynn said. “Employers have no constitutional right to impose their moral judgments on their employees.”The brief notes that the Beckwith firm cites the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed in 1993, as evidence it is entitled to an exemption from the mandate. But Americans United disputes this argument.“Plaintiffs fail to demonstrate that the requirement imposes a substantial burden on their religious exercise, as required to trigger strict scrutiny under RFRA,” the brief observes. “And the exemption they seek would authorize employers to intrude on private healthcare relationships, conditioning employees’ private medical decisions on their employers’ religious beliefs.”

The case is one of dozens challenging the contraception mandate. Appeals courts are split over the question of whether the mandate can be applied to secular, for-profit firms, and observers believe the issue is likely to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

“If secular, for-profit corporations win the right to impose their owners' religious beliefs on employees, the consequences will transcend the issue of contraception,” said Gregory M. Lipper, senior litigation counsel for Americans United and a primary author of the brief. “Owners with religious objections to blood transfusions, psychiatric treatment or even gelatin-covered pills would be able to impose their beliefs on their corporations' employees.”

In addition to Lipper, the brief in Beckwith Electric Company, Inc. v. Sebelius was prepared by AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan and AU Madison Fellow Caitlin E. O'Connell, with input from Daniel Mach and Brigitte Amiri of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Groups joining Americans United on the brief are: ACLU; American Civil Liberties Union Fund of Michigan; Anti-Defamation League; Catholics for Choice; Central Conference of American Rabbis; Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America; Hindu American Foundation; Interfaith Alliance Foundation; National Coalition of American Nuns; National Council of Jewish Women; Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice; Religious Institute; Union for Reform Judaism; Unitarian Universalist Association; Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation and Women of Reform Judaism.