Cyril B. Korte, Jane E. Korte, and Korte & Luitjohan Contractors, Inc., Plaintiffs-Appellants,
Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health & Human Services, et al., Defendants-Appellees. William D. Grote, III; William Dominic Grote, IV; Walter F. Grote, Jr.; Michael R. Grote; W. Frederick Grote, III; John R. Grote; Grote Industries, LLC; and Grote Industries, Inc., Plaintiffs-Appellants,
Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health & Human Services, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Argued May 22, 2013
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. No. 3:12-CV-01072-MJR — Michael J. Reagan, Judge.
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, New Albany Division. No. 4:12-cv-00134-SEB-DML — Sarah Evans Barker, Judge.
Before Flaum, Rovner, and Sykes, Circuit Judges.
Sykes, Circuit Judge.
These consolidated appeals challenge the federal government's "contraception mandate, " a regulatory requirement imposed by the Department of Health and Human Services ("HHS") to implement the terms of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The mandate requires employers to provide coverage for contraception and sterilization procedures in their employee health-care plans on a no-cost-sharing basis. Noncompliance carries heavy financial penalties and the risk of enforcement actions.
The plaintiffs are two Catholic families and their closely held corporations—one a construction company in Illinois and the other a manufacturing firm in Indiana. The businesses are secular and for profit, but they operate in conformity with the faith commitments of the families that own and manage them. The plaintiffs object for religious reasons to providing the mandated coverage. They sued for an exemption on constitutional and statutory grounds.
Center stage at this juncture is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 ("RFRA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000bb et seq., which prohibits the federal government from placing substantial burdens on "a person's exercise of religion, " id. § 2000bb-1(a), unless it can demonstrate that applying the burden is the "least restrictive means of furthering … [a] compelling governmental interest, " id. § 2000bb-1(b). Focusing primarily on their RFRA claims, the plaintiffs in each case moved for a preliminary injunction. The district judges denied relief, holding that the claims were not likely to succeed. We provisionally disagreed and enjoined enforcement of the mandate pending appeal.
The appeals have now been briefed and argued and are ready for decision. Plenary review has confirmed our earlier judgment. These cases—two among many currently pending in courts around the country—raise important questions about whether business owners and their closely held corporations may assert a religious objection to the contraception mandate and whether forcing them to provide this coverage substantially burdens their religious-exercise rights. We hold that the plaintiffs—the business owners and their companies—may challenge the mandate. We further hold that compelling them to cover these services substantially burdens their religious-exercise rights. Under RFRA the government must justify the burden under the standard of strict scrutiny. So far it has not done so, and we doubt that it can. Because the RFRA claims are very likely to succeed and the balance of harms favors protecting the religious-liberty rights of the plaintiffs, we reverse and remand with instructions to enter preliminary injunctions barring enforcement of the mandate against them.
A. The Contraception Mandate
On March 23, 2010, Congress adopted the Affordable Care Act, a sweeping legislative and regulatory overhaul of the nation's health-care system. The Act "aims to increase the number of Americans covered by health insurance and decrease the cost of health care." Nat'l Fed'n of Indep. Bus. v. Sebelius ("NFIB"), 132 S.Ct. 2566, 2580 (2012). One feature of the Act is a requirement that employee health-care plans governed by ERISA provide certain minimum levels of coverage to plan participants and beneficiaries. See 29 U.S.C. § 1185d (applying the requirements of part A of Title XXVII of the Public Health Services Act as amended by the Affordable Care Act to ERISA-governed group health plans). More specifically, the Affordable Care Act establishes a general requirement that employer-sponsored group health-care plans cover "preventive care and screenings" for women on a no-cost-sharing basis; Congress instructed HHS to fill in the details:
A group health plan and a health insurance issuer offering group or individual health insurance coverage shall, at a minimum provide coverage for and shall not impose any cost sharing requirements for—
(4) with respect to women, such additional preventive care and screenings not described in paragraph (1) as provided for in comprehensive guidelines supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration ["HRSA, " an agency within HHS] for purposes of this paragraph.
42 U.S.C. § 300gg-13(a); see also 29 U.S.C. § 1185d.
Before promulgating regulations pursuant to this statutory directive, the HRSA sought advice from the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Science about what services to include in the preventive-care mandate. Based on the Institute's recommendations, the HRSA issued comprehensive guidelines requiring coverage of (among other things) "[a]ll Food and Drug Administration ["FDA"] approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity." Health Res. & Servs. Admin., Women's Preventive Services Guidelines: Affordable Care Act Expands Prevention Coverage for Women's Health and Well-Being, http://www.hrsa. gov/womensguidelines/ (last visited Nov. 7, 2013). These include oral contraceptives ("the pill"), barrier methods, implants and injections, emergency oral contraceptives ("Plan B" and "Ella"), and intrauterine devices. On February 15, 2012, HHS published final regulations incorporating the HRSA guidelines. See Group Health Plans and Health Insurance Issuers Relating to Coverage of Preventive Services, 77 Fed. Reg. 8725 (Feb. 15, 2012). The agency made the mandate effective in the first plan year on or after August 1, 2012. See 45 C.F.R. § 147.130(b)(1).
Noncompliance with the contraception mandate is punished by steep financial penalties and other civil remedies. For example, failure to provide the mandated coverage brings a tax penalty of $100 per day per employee—$36, 500 per year per employee. See 26 U.S.C. § 4980D(a), (b)(1). If an employer discontinues offering a health plan altogether, the penalty is $2, 000 per year per employee. See id. § 4980H(a), (c). In addition, noncomplying employers face potential enforcement actions by the Secretary of Labor and plan participants and beneficiaries under ERISA. See 29 U.S.C. §§ 1132, 1185d.
Like many of the other employer mandates in the Affordable Care Act, the contraception mandate applies to employers with 50 or more full-time employees. See 26 U.S.C. § 4980H. Smaller employers—those with fewer than 50 full-time employees—are not required to provide a health plan for their employees and apparently are not subject to the coverage minimums, including the contraception mandate. See id. We say "apparently" because it's not entirely clear that the mandate is categorically inapplicable to small employers; the government takes the position that if a small employer not otherwise required to provide an employee health-care plan nonetheless chooses to do so, the regulatory scheme requires inclusion of the mandated contraception coverage.
Health plans in existence when the Act was adopted are "grandfathered" and do not need to comply with the coverage minimums—including the contraception mandate—unless the plan sponsor makes certain changes to the terms of the plan. See 42 U.S.C. § 18011. Grandfathering is a transitional measure; this category will shrink as employer-based plans existing prior to March 23, 2010, undergo changes. The government estimates that the number of plans in grandfathered status will dwindle fairly rapidly as older health-care plans are updated and renewed. See Interim Final Rules for Group Health Plans and Health Insurance Coverage Relating to Status as a Grandfathered Health Plan, 75 Fed. Reg. 34, 538, 34, 552 (June 17, 2010).
Finally, some religious employers are exempt from the contraception mandate, see 45 C.F.R. § 147.130(a)(1)(iv)(A), but "religious employer" was initially defined quite narrowly:
[A] "religious employer" [for purposes of an exemption from the contraception mandate] is an organization that meets all of the following criteria:
(1) The inculcation of religious values is the purpose of the organization.
(2) The organization primarily employs persons who share the religious tenets of the organization.
(3) The organization serves primarily persons who share the religious tenets of the organization.
(4) The organization is a nonprofit organization as described in section 6033(a)(1) and section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) or (iii) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended [covering the tax status of churches and their integrated auxiliaries, conventions or associations of churches, and the exclusively religious activities of religious orders].
Id. § 147.130(a)(1)(iv)(B).
B. The Religious-Employer Controversy
The contraception mandate was instantly controversial.The religious-employer exemption did not leave room for conscientious religious objectors other than houses of worship, their integrated affiliate organizations, and religious orders acting as such. In other words, the definition of "religious employer" was so circumscribed that it left out religious colleges and universities; religious hospitals and clinics; religious charities and social-service organizations; other faith-based nonprofits; and for-profit, closely held businesses managed in accordance with a religious mission or creed.
HHS responded to the outcry from these left-out employers by establishing a temporary "safe harbor" for certain nonprofit religious organizations not covered by the exemption. See Group Health Plans and Health Insurance Issuers Relating to Coverage of Preventive Services, 77 Fed. Reg. at 8728. Eventually the agency proposed a revised definition of "religious employer" and an "accommodation" of a broader class of nonprofit religious organizations with objections to the mandated coverage. The new rules were proposed in final form on February 6, 2013, see Coverage of Certain Preventive Services, 78 Fed. Reg. 8456, published in final form on July 2, 2013, see 78 Fed. Reg. 39, 870, and became effective August 1, 2013, see id.
As revised, the exemption drops the first three requirements of the earlier definition of "religious employer, " but the change is not intended to alter the exemption's scope. "Religious employer" is now defined as "an organization that is organized and operates as a nonprofit entity and is referred to in section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) or (iii) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended." 45 C.F.R. § 147.131(a). The cross-reference is the tax exemption for churches and their integrated auxiliaries, conventions or associations of churches, and the exclusively religious activities of religious orders. See 26 U.S.C. § 6033(a)(3)(A)(i), (iii). HHS has explained that "the simplified and clarified definition of religious employer does not expand the universe of religious employers that qualify for the exemption beyond that which was intended in the 2012 final regulations." Coverage of Certain Preventive Services, 78 Fed. Reg. at 39, 874. In other words, the exemption remains limited to "[h]ouses of worship and their integrated auxiliaries." Id.
Under the revised rule, certain nonprofit religiously affiliated employers may receive an "accommodation"—essentially, an attempted workaround whereby the objecting employer gives notice to its insurance carrier and the insurer issues a separate policy with the mandated coverage. The accommodation is limited to organizations that meet the following requirements:
(1) The organization opposes providing coverage for some or all of any contraceptive services required to be covered under § 147.130(a)(1)(iv) on account of religious objections.
(2) The organization operates as a nonprofit entity.
(3) The organization holds itself out as a religious organization.
(4) The organization self-certifies, in a form and manner specified by the Secretary, that it satisfies the criteria in paragraphs (b)(1) through (3) of this section … .
45 C.F.R. § 147.131(b). Notably for our purposes, neither the final religious-employer exemption nor the accommodation applies to for-profit employers with conscientious religious objections to providing the mandated coverage.
C. The Plaintiffs
1. The Kortes and K & L Contractors
Cyril and Jane Korte own and operate Korte & Luitjohan Contractors, Inc. ("K & L Contractors"), a construction company located in Highland, Illinois. K & L Contractors has approximately 90 full-time employees, 70 of whom belong to a union that sponsors their health-insurance plan. The company provides a health-care plan for the remaining 20 or so nonunion employees. Together, Cyril and Jane own about 87% of the stock of the corporation and are its only directors. Cyril is the president and Jane is the secretary of the company. As officers and directors, they set all company policy.
The Kortes are Catholic and follow the teachings of the Catholic Church regarding the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death and the moral wrongfulness of abortion, sterilization, and the use of abortifacient drugs and artificial means of contraception. They seek to manage their company in accordance with their faith commitments. In August 2012 when the contraception mandate was finalized, the Kortes discovered that their then-existing health plan covered sterilization and contraception—coverage that they did not realize they were carrying. Because providing this coverage conflicts with their religious convictions, they began to investigate alternative health-care plans with the intention of terminating their existing plan and substituting one that conforms to the requirements of their faith.
The contraception mandate stood in their way. The company's existing health-care plan was set to renew on January 1, 2013, triggering the requirements of the mandate and the large financial penalties and possible enforcement actions if they did not comply. As the Kortes understand their religious obligations, providing the mandated coverage would facilitate a grave moral wrong. On the other hand, following the teachings of their faith and refusing to comply would financially devastate K & L Contractors and the Kortes as its owners; at $100 per day per employee, the monetary penalties would total $730, 000 per year.
The Kortes responded to the conflict between their legal and religious duties in two ways. First, they promulgated ethical guidelines for K & L Contractors memorializing the faith-informed moral limitations on the company's provision of health-care benefits, including its inability to provide insurance coverage for abortion, abortifacient drugs, artificial contraception, and sterilization. Second, the Kortes and K & L Contractors filed suit in the Southern District of Illinois for a religious exemption from the mandate.
2. The Grotes and Grote Industries
The Grote Family owns and manages Grote Industries, Inc., a manufacturer of vehicle safety systems headquartered in Madison, Indiana. Like the Kortes, the members of the Grote Family are Catholic and they manage Grote Industries in accordance with their religious commitments, including Catholic moral teaching regarding the sanctity of human life and the wrongfulness of abortion, abortifacient drugs, artificial contraception, and sterilization.
Grote Industries has 1, 148 full-time employees at various locations, including 464 in the United States. The company provides a health-care plan that is self-insured and renews annually on the first of every year. Consistent with the Grote Family's Catholic faith, prior to January 1, 2013, the employee health-care plan did not cover contraception and sterilization procedures. Starting on that date, however, the requirements of the contraception mandate kicked in.
Like the Kortes and K & L Contractors, the Grote Family and Grote Industries object on religious grounds to providing coverage for contraception, abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization procedures. But with its large full-time workforce, the company faced an annual penalty of almost $17 million if it did not comply with the mandate. The Grotes and Grote Industries filed suit in the Southern District of Indiana for a religious exemption from the mandate.
D. The Litigation
Both complaints name the Secretaries of HHS, Labor, and the Treasury as defendants and seek declaratory and injunctive relief against the contraception mandate. Both sets of plaintiffs allege that the mandate violates their rights under RFRA; the Free Exercise Clause, the Establishment Clause, and the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment; and the Administrative Procedure Act. The Grote complaint adds a due-process claim. In both cases the plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction the day after filing suit, focusing primarily though not exclusively on their RFRA claims.
In Korte the district court in Southern Illinois denied the motion, concluding that the Kortes and K & L Contractors had not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits. Regarding the RFRA claim in particular, the judge held that although the Kortes and K & L Contractors are "persons" within the meaning of RFRA and may invoke the statute's protection, the contraception mandate does not substantially burden their religious-exercise rights. This is so, the judge held, because the link between the mandated coverage and the acts condemned by the Kortes' religion is too attenuated. In other words, the burden on religious exercise is insubstantial because the compelled provision of contraception coverage is too far removed from the independent decisions by plan participants and beneficiaries to use contraception. The court also found the free-exercise claim unlikely to succeed.
In Grote the district court in Southern Indiana likewise denied the motion, also concluding that the plaintiffs were not likely to succeed on their RFRA claim. Unlike her colleague in Southern Illinois, however, the Indiana judge doubted that a secular, for-profit corporation like Grote Industries has religious-exercise rights under RFRA. The judge did not decide the question, however, concluding instead that any burden on the Grotes or Grote Industries is insignificant because too many independent decisions separate the provision of the mandated coverage and the practices deemed immoral by the Catholic Church. The court also found the constitutional and Administrative Procedure Act claims unlikely to succeed.
The case from Southern Illinois reached us first, just before the January 1, 2013 deadline for compliance with the mandate. The plaintiffs sought an injunction pending appeal. In a brief order and based on our early review of the merits, we provisionally held that the RFRA claim is likely to succeed and the balance of harms weighs in favor of the religious-liberty rights of the plaintiffs. See Korte v. Sebelius, No. 12-3841, 2012 WL 6757353, *4–5 (7th Cir. Dec. 28, 2012). We enjoined enforcement of the mandate pending appeal. Id. at *5. Our colleague dissented. Id. at *5–6 (Rovner, J., dissenting).
On the strength of our provisional decision in Korte, the Grotes and Grote Industries returned to the district court in Southern Indiana and asked for reconsideration. The judge acknowledged the similarity between the two cases but declined to reconsider because our order in Korte had no precedential effect. The plaintiffs appealed and asked for an injunction pending appeal. Tracing our analysis in Korte, we granted the request and enjoined enforcement of the mandate pending appeal. Grote v. Sebelius, 708 F.3d 850, 853–55 (7th Cir. 2013). Again, our colleague disagreed, filing a thoughtful dissent explaining her contrary position. Id. at 855–67 (Rovner, J., dissenting).
The appeals proceeded to full briefing, and we heard argument at the end of May. Since then, four circuits have reached decision in similar cases. The Tenth Circuit held that two closely held, for-profit businesses and their owners are likely to succeed on a claim for an exemption from the mandate under RFRA. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius, 723 F.3d 1114 (10th Cir. 2013). The Sixth and Third Circuits disagree. Autocam Corp. v. Sebelius, 730 F.3d 618 (6th Cir. 2013); Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sec'y of the U.S. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 724 F.3d 377 (3d Cir. 2013). The D.C. Circuit recently held that the owners of two closely held, for-profit businesses are likely to succeed on a RFRA challenge to the mandate, although their companies are not. Gilardi v. U.S. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., No. 13-5069, 2013 WL 5854246 (D.C. Cir. Nov. 1, 2013).
These cases come to us on appeals from orders denying preliminary injunctive relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1291. To win a preliminary injunction, the moving party must demonstrate that (1) it has no adequate remedy at law and will suffer irreparable harm if a preliminary injunction is denied; and (2) there is some likelihood of success on the merits of the claim. See Ezell v. City of Chicago, 651 F.3d 684, 694 (7th Cir. 2011). If the moving party meets this threshold burden, the court weighs the competing harms to the parties if an injunction is granted or denied and also considers the public interest. See Planned Parenthood of Ind., Inc. v. Comm'r of the Ind. State Dep't of Health, 699 F.3d 962, 972 (7th Cir. 2012); Ezell, 651 F.3d at 694. This equitable balancing proceeds on a sliding-scale analysis; the greater the likelihood of success on the merits, the less heavily the balance of harms must tip in the moving party's favor. See Planned Parenthood, 699 F.3d at 972. The aim is to minimize the costs of a wrong decision. See Stuller, Inc. v. Steak N Shake Enters., Inc., 695 F.3d 676, 678 (7th Cir. 2012). Our review proceeds on a split standard of review: We review legal conclusions de novo, findings of fact for clear error, and equitable balancing for abuse of discretion. Ezell, 651 F.3d at 694.
Here, the analysis begins and ends with the likelihood of success on the merits of the RFRA claim. On the strength of that claim alone, preliminary injunctive relief is warranted; there is no need to remand for the district courts to weigh the injunction equities. Although the claim is statutory, RFRA protects First Amendment free-exercise rights, and "in First Amendment cases, 'the likelihood of success on the merits will often be the determinative factor.' " ACLU of Ill. v. Alvarez, 679 F.3d 583, 589 (7th Cir. 2012) (quoting Joelner v. Village of Washington Park, Ill., 378 F.3d 613, 620 (7th Cir. 2004)). "This is because the 'loss of First Amendment freedoms … unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury … .' " Id. (quoting Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 373 (1976) (plurality opinion)). Moreover, once the moving party establishes a likelihood of success on the merits, the balance of harms "normally favors granting preliminary injunctive relief" because " 'injunctions protecting First Amendment freedoms are always in the public interest.' " Id. at 590 (quoting Christian Legal Soc'y v. Walker, 453 F.3d 853, 859 (7th Cir. 2006)). The government hasn't addressed equitable balancing, conceding the point to the plaintiffs. So the appeals turn entirely on whether the plaintiffs' RFRA claims are likely to succeed.
Two legal questions are contested: (1) is a secular, for-profit corporation a "person" under RFRA; and (2) does the contraception mandate substantially burden the religious-exercise rights of any of the plaintiffs, individual or corporate? If the answer to these questions is "yes, " the government must discharge its burden of justifying the mandate under strict scrutiny. We conclude as follows: The corporate plaintiffs are "persons" under RFRA and may invoke the statute's protection; the contraception mandate substantially burdens the religious-exercise rights of all of the plaintiffs; and the government has not carried its burden under strict scrutiny.
First, however, we clear away some possible jurisdictional objections.
Although the government never challenged jurisdiction, either in the district court or here, we have an independent obligation to satisfy ourselves that jurisdiction is secure before proceeding to the merits. See Minn-Chem, Inc. v. Agrium Inc., 683 F.3d 845, 853 (7th Cir. 2012) (en banc); Carroll v. Stryker Corp., 658 F.3d 675, 680 (7th Cir. 2011). There are two arguable jurisdictional issues lurking here: standing and the Anti-Injunction Act.
Article III of the Constitution limits the judicial power to "Cases" and "Controversies, " U.S. Const. art. III, § 2, cl. 1; Clapper v. Amnesty Int'l USA, 133 S.Ct. 1138, 1146 (2013), a limitation understood to confine the federal courts to "the traditional role of Anglo-American courts, which is to redress or prevent actual or imminently threatened injury to persons caused by private or official violation of law, " Summers v. Earth Island Inst., 555 U.S. 488, 492 (2009). The doctrine of standing enforces this limitation. Id.; Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992). To invoke the authority of a federal court, a litigant must have "an injury that is concrete, particularized, and actual or imminent; fairly traceable to the defendant's challenged action; and redressable by a favorable ruling." Horne v. Flores, 557 U.S. 433, 445 (2009).
The contraception mandate inflicts a concrete and particularized injury on all of the plaintiffs. The mandate operates directly on K & L Contractors and Grote Industries, forcing them to provide contraception coverage in their employee health-care plans on pain of onerous financial penalties and the possibility of enforcement actions by federal regulators charged with implementing the Affordable Care Act. The threat of financial penalty and other enforcement action is easily sufficient to establish standing to challenge the mandate prior to its enforcement. The companies need not violate the mandate and risk enforcement of the regulatory scheme before bringing suit. See Wis. Right to Life State Political Action Comm. v. Barland, 664 F.3d 139, 147 (7th Cir. 2011). The "existence of a statute implies a threat to prosecute, so pre-enforcement challenges are proper [under Article III] because a probability of future injury counts as 'injury' for purposes of standing." Bauer v. Shepard, 620 F.3d 704, 708 (7th Cir. 2010).
The Kortes and Grotes also have Article III standing, although this conclusion requires a bit more elaboration. The contraception mandate injures the individual plaintiffs in two concrete ways. First, because corporate ownership is closely held, the mandate's indirect effect on the financial interests of the Kortes and Grotes as controlling shareholders is a concrete injury sufficient to support Article III standing under Supreme Court and circuit precedent. See Franchise Tax Bd. of Calif. v. Alcan Aluminum Ltd., 493 U.S. 331, 336 (1990) (indirect sole shareholders have Article III standing to challenge taxes assessed against their wholly owned subsidiaries); Rawoof v. Texor Petroleum Co., 521 F.3d 750, 756 (7th Cir. 2008) (sole shareholder of a corporation operating a branded petroleum franchise has Article III standing to challenge franchisor's termination of the franchise under the Petroleum Marketing Practices Act).
Second, the Kortes and the Grotes face an intangible but no less concrete injury to their religious-exercise rights. It is axiomatic that organizational associations, including corporations, act only through human agency. See Reich v. Sea Sprite Boat Co., 50 F.3d 413, 417 (7th Cir. 1995) ("incorporeal abstractions act through agents"). As owners, officers, and directors of their closely held corporations, the Kortes and Grotes set all company policy and manage the day-to-day operations of their businesses. Complying with the mandate requires them to purchase the required contraception coverage (or self-insure for these services), albeit as agents of their companies and using corporate funds. But this conflicts with their religious commitments; as they understand the requirements of their faith, they must refrain from putting this coverage in place because doing so would make them complicit in the morally wrongful act of another.
Compelling a person to do an act his religion forbids, or punishing him for an act his religion requires, are paradigmatic religious-liberty injuries sufficient to invoke the jurisdiction of the federal courts. See, e.g., Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao Do Vegetal, 546 U.S. 418, 428 (2006); Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1993); United States v. Lee, 455 U.S. 252 (1982); Thomas v. Review Bd. of the Ind. Emp't Sec. Div., 450 U.S. 707 (1981); Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972); Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963).
Finally, we note that the shareholder-standing rule does not block the Kortes and Grotes from challenging the mandate. The rule is an aspect of third-party standing doctrine, which implements the general principle that litigants may not sue in federal court to enforce the rights of others. See Franchise Tax Bd., 493 U.S. at 336; Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498 (1975); Rawoof, 521 F.3d at 757; MainStreet Org. of Realtors v. Calumet City, 505 F.3d 742, 745 (7th Cir. 2007). Subject to certain exceptions, the rule "holds that a shareholder generally cannot sue for indirect harm he suffers as a result of an injury to the corporation." Rawoof, 521 F.3d at 757 (citing Franchise Tax Bd., 493 U.S. at 336).
Like other rules of third-party standing, however, the shareholder-standing rule is a prudential limitation and does not affect the court's authority to hear the case. "Prudential-standing doctrine 'is not jurisdictional in the sense that Article III standing is.' " Id. at 756 (quoting MainStreet Realtors, 505 F.3d at 747). Unlike true jurisdictional rules, prudential limitations on standing can be waived. See G & S Holdings LLC v. Cont'l Cas. Co., 697 F.3d 535, 540 (7th Cir. 2012); MainStreet Realtors, 505 F.3d at 747. By failing to raise the shareholder-standing rule in the district court or here, the government waived it. Although we have the discretion to overlook the waiver, see Rawoof, 521 F.3d at 756–57; MainStreet Realtors, 505 F.3d at 747, doing so here would be pointless. A well-established exception allows "a shareholder with a direct, personal interest in a cause of action to bring suit even if the corporation's rights are also implicated." Franchise Tax Bd., 493 U.S. at 336. The Kortes and the Grotes fall comfortably within the exception; they have a direct and personal interest in vindicating their individual religious-liberty rights, even though the rights of their closely held corporations are also at stake.
2. The Anti-Injunction Act
The Anti-Injunction Act provides that "no suit for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax shall be maintained in any court by any person, whether or not such person is the person against whom such tax was assessed." 26 U.S.C. § 7421(a). The Act "protects the Government's ability to collect a consistent stream of revenue by barring litigation to enjoin or otherwise obstruct the collection of taxes." NFIB, 132 S.Ct. at 2582; see also Hibbs v. Winn, 542 U.S. 88, 103 (2004); Bob Jones Univ. v. Simon, 416 U.S. 725, 736 (1974); Enochs v. Williams Packing & Navigation Co., 370 U.S. 1, 7 (1962). By operation of the Act, a tax ordinarily may be challenged only in a suit for a refund after it is paid. NFIB, 132 S.Ct. at 2582; Bob Jones Univ., 416 U.S. at 736–37.
The Anti-Injunction Act does not apply here. These are not suits "for the purpose of" restraining the assessment or collection of a tax. The suits seek relief from a regulatory mandate that exists separate and apart from the assessment or collection of taxes. The contraception mandate is not itself a tax provision; its location within the United States Code and corresponding HHS regulations underscores as much.
The mandate was promulgated by HHS pursuant to authority delegated to it by a section of the Affordable Care Act that amends the Public Health Services Act. See 42 U.S.C. § 300gg-13(a)(4). The statutory component of the mandate imposes a general preventive-care requirement on all group health-care plans (including employer-sponsored plans) and issuers of individual and group health-insurance policies. See id. The mandate is situated in the public-welfare title of the Code of Federal Regulations—more specifically, in the part containing regulations governing the group and individual health-insurance markets. See 45 C.F.R. § 147.130. The mandate is backed by stiff tax penalties against employers that fail to comply, see 26 U.S.C. §§ 4980D, 4980H, but there are additional consequences for noncompliance, including ERISA enforcement actions by the Secretary of Labor and plan participants and beneficiaries, see 29 U.S.C. §§ 1132, 1185d. Noncompliant health insurers are subject to the enforcement authority of the Secretary of HHS as well as the states in which they operate. See 42 U.S.C. § 300gg-22.
It should be clear from this description that the contraception mandate is not structured as a predicate to the imposition of a tax but is instead an independent regulatory mandate. These lawsuits target the mandate itself.
It is true that the complaints name the Treasury Secretary as a defendant in addition to the Secretaries of HHS and Labor, and the plaintiffs have asked the court to enjoin the enforcement of the mandate by any of them. If the plaintiffs win an exemption from the mandate, they will not be liable for the tax penalty under § 4980D and will be insulated from other means of enforcement as well. In that sense these lawsuits, if successful, will incidentally affect the corporate plaintiffs' tax liability. But the Anti-Injunction Act does not reach "all disputes tangentially related to taxes." Cohen v. United States, 650 F.3d 717, 727 (D.C. Cir. 2011); see also Pendleton v. Heard, 824 F.2d 448, 451–52 (5th Cir. 1987) (restraining the assessment or collection of a tax must be the primary purpose of the lawsuit, not an incidental effect of it, for the Anti-Injunction Act to apply); Linn v. Chivatero, 714 F.2d 1278, 1282 (5th Cir. 1983) (same).
Still, there is no doubt that § 4980D, a provision in the Internal Revenue Code, is implicated in the remedial sweep of these cases, so we think it best to address whether it is properly classified as a "tax" within the meaning of the Anti-Injunction Act. It is not.
We acknowledge that Congress used the term "tax" in the text of § 4980D (and also in § 4980H, the alternative "shared responsibility payment" for employers that drop or otherwise go without an employee health-care plan). The language Congress uses to describe an exaction is ordinarily the best evidence of whether it meant the Anti-Injunction Act to apply. See NFIB, 132 S.Ct. at 2582–83. But Congress also called the payment specified in § 4980D a "penalty." The statute was originally adopted as part of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-191, 110 Stat. 1936, and was titled "Penalty on Failure to Meet Certain Group Health Plan Requirements, " see id. § 402, 110 Stat. 1936, 2084 (emphasis added). The language Congress used is contradictory and thus inconclusive.
Other features of § 4980D confirm that the provision is meant to penalize employers for noncompliance with the various mandates in the Affordable Care Act and its implementing regulations. The sheer size of the required payment fairly screams "penalty." Any failure to provide the mandated minimum coverage—no matter how significant the deviation— costs the employer a whopping $100 per day per employee. See 26 U.S.C. § 4980D(b). Exacting such a high price for noncompliance suggests that the congressional objective is punitive. See Empress Casino Joliet Corp. v. Balmoral Racing Club, Inc., 651 F.3d 722, 729 (7th Cir. 2011) ("[A] tax might be so totally punitive in purpose and effect that, since nomenclature is unimportant, it should be classified as a fine rather than a tax.") (applying the parallel Tax Injunction Act, which protects the collection of state taxes).
When Congress regulates private conduct and makes noncompliance painful by exacting severe and disproportionate monetary consequences, the primary purpose of the scheme must be understood as regulatory and punitive rather than revenue raising. See Robertson v. United States, 582 F.2d 1126, 1128 (7th Cir. 1978) (the Anti-Injunction Act does not apply to "the exaction of a purely regulatory tax"). The obvious aim of § 4980D is not to raise revenue but to achieve broad compliance with the regulatory regime through deterrence and punishment. This is so even though the exaction generates some revenue because "deterrence is never perfect." Empress Casino, 651 F.3d at 728–29; see also Retail Indus. Leaders Ass'n v. Fielder, 475 F.3d 180, 189 (4th Cir. 2007) (the Tax Injunction Act does not apply to a challenge to Maryland's "Fair Share Act" requiring a minimum level of spending on employee health-care benefits).
The statute also contains several exceptions based on the employer's scienter, see 26 U.S.C. § 4980D(c), a key indication that the payment is a penalty, not a tax. See NFIB, 132 S.Ct. at 2595 ("[S]cienter requirements are typical of punitive statutes, because Congress often wishes to punish only those who intentionally break the law."); Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Co. (Child Labor Tax Case), 259 U.S. 20, 37 (1922) ("Scienter [is] associated with penalties, not with taxes."). Finally, the $100-per-day-per-employee formula is repeated verbatim in 42 U.S.C. § 300gg-22(b)(2)(C)(ii), which authorizes the Secretary of HHS to impose the same sort of penalty on noncompliant insurers that § 4980D(b)(1) imposes on noncompliant employers.
Together, these aspects of the regulatory scheme all point in the same direction: Section 4980D is a penalty for noncom-pliance with the regulatory mandates on employer-based health-care plans. It is not a tax for purposes of the Anti-Injunction Act. By parallel reasoning the same is true of the alternative payment in § 4980H. This conclusion comports with the Supreme Court's decision in NFIB, which held that the Affordable Care Act's "shared responsibility payment" for noncompliance with the individual insurance mandate is not a tax for purposes of the Anti-Injunction Act. 132 S.Ct. at 2582–84. Here, as in NFIB, the Anti-Injunction Act does not block a decision on the merits.
B. The RFRA Claim
In Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872, 883–90 (1990), the Supreme Court held that the religious freedom guaranteed by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment does not require religious exemptions from facially neutral laws of general applicability.Smith altered the then-prevailing standard of Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. at 406–07, and Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. at 220–21, which applied strict scrutiny to laws that had the effect of burdening religious practices. Under Sherbert and Yoder, a substantial burden on religious exercise—even one arising from the application of a religion-neutral, generally applicable law—was unconstitutional unless the government could show that the burden was the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling public interest. Smith changed that understanding of the free-exercise right. The Court held that neutral laws of general applicability need only satisfy the basic test for rationality that applies to all laws; if a law incidentally burdens the exercise of religion, the Constitution does not require an exemption. Smith, 494 U.S. at 878–79, 888–90.
Congress responded to this shift in free-exercise doctrine by enacting RFRA, "a statutory rule comparable to the constitutional rule rejected in Smith." O Centro Espirita, 546 U.S. at 424; see also Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709, 714–15 (2005); City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507, 512 (1997). RFRA creates a broad statutory right to case-specific exemptions from laws that substantially burden religious exercise even if the law is neutral and generally applicable, unless the government can satisfy the compelling-interest test. RFRA represents a congressional judgment that the rule of Smith is insufficiently protective of religious liberty. Congress filled the gap by expressly "requir[ing] accommodation rather than neutrality." O'Bryan v. Bureau of Prisons, 349 F.3d 399, 401 (7th Cir. 2003).
RFRA's general rule is as follows:
Free exercise of religion protected
(a) In general
Government shall not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except as ...