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Another Religious Challenge to Contraception Mandate; Same Result

By William Peacock, Esq. on October 30, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Well, Sixth Circuit panels may ignore other panels' crack resentencing precedent, but there was no such mistake here. Eden Foods challenge to the Obamacare contraception mandate was tossed in a short opinion by the Sixth Circuit, which cited its own controlling precedent from last month.

The only thing of note in the opinion was a footnote where the court cited an interview of Eden Foods' CEO Michael Potter by, and characterized his religious beliefs as "a laissez-faire, anti-government screed."

Last Month's Autocam Decision

Here are the facts of both cases: religious owners of secular for-profit companies argued that their religious beliefs, and those of the company, were violated by the Affordable Care Act's mandate that requires employers to provide health coverage that includes contraception, including "abortifacients" (morning-after pills), but not abortions, to their employees.

Both brought claims under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000bb. Both failed.

For a bit of context, these are two of the seventy-two cases that have been filed nationwide challenging the mandate. The Tenth Circuit sided with Hobby Lobby's religious freedom claims, while the Third Circuit sided with the government.

The Supreme Court is considering whether to grant certiorari in those cases as we speak.

As for the Sixth, the court held in Autocam that the beliefs of the owners are not that of the secular for-profit company, noting that, "incorporation's basic purpose is to create a distinct legal entity, with legal rights, obligations, powers, and privileges different from those of the natural individuals who created it, who own it, or whom it employs."

Or to put it more succinctly: "Autocam is not a 'person' capable of 'religious exercise' as intended by RFRA."

This Month's Eden Foods Decision

It's exactly what one would expect: last month's decision in Autocam controls the outcome here, though the court noted that even without precedent, it would have ruled the same way.

The Funny Footnote

It's not often that you'll see a footnote questioning one's religious beliefs, but that's exactly what happened here. The court, with a hint of sarcasm, referenced Potter's alleged (in the complaint) "deeply held religious beliefs," before citing's interview with Potter, where he first noted that he had no problem with birth control ("it's really none of my business what women do."), then intimated what his (possibly) true motives were: "I don't care if the federal government is telling me to buy my employees Jack Daniel's or birth control. What gives them the right to tell me that I have to do that? That's my issue, that's what I object to, and that's the beginning and end of the story."

Note to future litigants: if your lawsuit alleges "deeply held religious beliefs," don't give interviews to the press where you make statements to the contrary. It hurts your credibility when your case reaches the Circuit Court of Appeals.

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