By Frederick Mark Gedicks, Guy Anderson Chair & Professor of Law, Brigham Young University Law School
Fr. Robert Araujo, Professor of Law at Loyola University Chicago, and Richard Garnett, Professor of Law & Political Science at the University of Notre Dame, have posted critical reactions on Mirror of Justice to my ACS Issue Brief, “With Religious Liberty for All: A Defense of the Affordable Care Act’s Contraception Coverage Mandate.”
Many of Fr. Araujo’s questions are answered in the Issue Brief, but one comment deserves a direct response. He suggests that I have elevated statutory and regulatory claims to no-cost contraception under the Affordable Care Act over more fundamental constitutional claims under the Free Exercise Clause, which he believes is violated by the mandate. One hears this free exercise rhetoric frequently from mandate opponents, but it misreads constitutional history and misunderstands the content of free exercise rights.
The Free Exercise Clause does not protect a right of believers to be excused or exempted from complying with laws that generally apply to the rest of society, even when such laws burden their religious exercise. The Supreme Court has rarely recognized rights to free exercise exemptions, and then only in a few instances between the early 1960s and the late 1980s. The Court decisively rejected a general right to free-exercise exemptions in Employment Division v. Smith (1990), which it has repeatedly affirmed in the years since, most recently in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez (2010).