The Department of Health and Human Services contraception mandate not only tramples religious liberty, it “also violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” write Ed Whelan and David Rivkin (“Birth-Control Mandate: Unconstitutional and Illegal,” Wall Street Journal, February 15, 2012):
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act states that the federal government may "substantially burden" a person's "exercise of religion" only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person "is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest" and "is the least restrictive means of furthering" that interest.
The law also provides that any later statutory override of its protections must be explicit. But there is nothing in the ObamaCare legislation that explicitly or even implicitly overrides the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The birth-control mandate proposed by Health and Human Services is thus illegal.
The refusal, for religious reasons, to provide birth-control coverage is clearly an exercise of religious freedom under the Constitution. The "exercise of religion" extends to performing, or refusing to perform, actions on religious grounds—and it is definitely not confined to religious institutions or acts of worship. Leading Supreme Court cases in this area, for example, involve a worker who refused to work on the Sabbath (Sherbert v. Verner, 1963) and parents who refused to send their teenage children to a public high school (Wisconsin v. Yoder, 1972).
In the high-school case, the Supreme Court found that even a $5 fine on the parents substantially burdened the free exercise of their religion. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, employers who fail to comply with the birth-control mandate will incur an annual penalty of roughly $2,000 per employee. So it is clearly a substantial burden.