The federal law in question, the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, provides that when a government action violates a person's sincerely-held religious beliefs, the burden of proof is on the government to establish that the action furthers a compelling state interest and is the least-restrictive means of doing so.
Furthermore, though the government may disagree with the person's religious objections, it may not determine for that person that his conscientious objection is groundless, the brief says.
The administration "wants petitioners to do precisely what their sincere religious beliefs forbid –and it is threatening them with draconian penalties unless they do so," the document states. "The government's refusal to acknowledge as much is nothing more than a forbidden attempt to secondguess petitioners' sincere religious beliefs that the actions the government has demanded of them would constitute sin."
Additionally, the fact that the administration exempted some employers from the mandate for other reasons undermines their claim that contraception coverage is a compelling interest, since they are not requiring all employers to provide it, the brief claims.
For instance, the health care law exempted "grandfathered plans," or certain health plans that existed before the law was passed, from having to follow the preventive services mandate, even though it required those plans to offer other coverage benefits, the brief says.
This means that many current plans offered by companies with 200 or more employees are exempt from the contraception mandate, while small businesses with 50 or less employees are exempt from having to provide health insurance altogether.
Furthermore, houses of worship – even those that do not object to the mandate – are exempt from it, meaning that a church could refuse to provide contraception coverage simply out of convenience and not face a penalty.
"If its interests were truly compelling, the government would not exempt the employers of tens of millions of employees from the mandate for mere administrative convenience," the brief states.
"All we ask is that our rights not be taken away," Sister Maguire said. "The government exempts large corporations, small businesses, and other religious ministries from what they are imposing on us – we just want to keep serving the elderly poor as we have always done for 175 years."
Matt Hadro was the political editor at Catholic News Agency through October 2021. He previously worked as CNA senior D.C. correspondent and as a press secretary for U.S. Congressman Chris Smith.