Deference to Claims of Substantial Religious Burden
Illinois Law Review Online, p.10, 2016
9 Pages Posted: 23 Jun 2016 Last revised: 8 Mar 2017
Date Written: June 22, 2016
Does filing paperwork in order to obtain a religious exemption from a law constitute a substantial burden on religious liberty? That was the main question posed by this term’s Zubik v. Burwell. In Zubik, religiously-affiliated nonprofit employers argued that the Affordable Care Act’s contraception benefit violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Notably, the regulations actually exempt the nonprofits from contraception coverage as long as they provide notice of their religious objection to their insurance company or the federal government. The nonprofits argued that this religious accommodation still forces them to facilitate sin because their notice triggers contraception coverage by their health insurance infrastructure. As a matter of federal law, they are simply wrong. Although religious objectors’ interpretation of their religious beliefs is entitled to deference, their interpretation of federal law is not. Indeed, automatic deference to religious objectors seeking religious exemptions misreads the language of RFRA and overlooks the courts’ authority to rule on factual and legal matters that are well within their institutional authority and competence. Because the accommodation does not impose a substantial religious burden, the nonprofits’ RFRA claim should have failed.
Keywords: Zubik, Religious Freedom Restoration Act, RFRA, religion, religious liberty, ACA, exemptions, burdens, contraception, Gorsuch
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