Burdening 'Substantial Burdens'

10 Pages Posted: 16 May 2016 Last revised: 26 Jun 2016

See all articles by Amy J. Sepinwall

Amy J. Sepinwall

Department of Legal Studies and Business Ethics, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Date Written: May 16, 2016


In Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, the Supreme Court held that religious believers could establish that their religious exercise was substantially burdened just so long as they – or the corporation they had formed – believed that it was.

This highly deferential stance paved the way for yet another challenge to the contraceptive mandate. In Zubik, religious organizations (ROs) contend that it is not just subsidization of contraception that can make an employer complicit in contraception use. Instead, even filling out a form registering one's objection to the mandate can do so. The government has responded by vigorously arguing that filling out a form cannot reasonably be construed as a substantial burden.

I interrogate the arguments on both sides and find all of them wanting. I nonetheless believe that there is good reason for ROs to contest the existing accommodation process, as it requires that the ROs ratify contraceptive use, in contravention of their religious beliefs. On these grounds, I find that the existing process imposes a substantial burden on religious exercise. But I also take seriously the rationale behind the contraceptive mandate and I conclude by seeking to vindicate women's rights to free contraception in ways that the ROs should find congenial.

Keywords: RFRA. contraceptive mandate, substantial burden, Zubik v. Burwell, Affordable Care Act

Suggested Citation

Sepinwall, Amy J., Burdening 'Substantial Burdens' (May 16, 2016). University of Illinois Law Review Online, p. 43, 2016, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2780566

Amy J. Sepinwall (Contact Author)

Department of Legal Studies and Business Ethics, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania ( email )

3730 Walnut Street
Suite 600
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6365
United States

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