Today's opinion reflects not a principled judgment about the meaning of RFRA but the Republican majority's policy opposition to the ACA, and its failure to take the rights and interests of the women employees affected by its decision seriously. That these justices may not apply the same logic when the mandate is for something other than contraception isn't much of a defense of their holding.
I agree that on the question of whether there is any conflict between religious practice and a statute, the courts should be deferential to an individual’s characterization of their beliefs. The legal standard, however, is not whether there is “any” conflict. It’s whether there is a substantial conflict. Courts do not have to be deferential on this question, and indeed since the finding of a substantial burden triggers the rare use of heightened scrutiny they can’t be deferential. And for the reasons Edwards explains, this is pretty much the definition of a de minimis burden: the Gilardis are not required to use contraception, required to promote the use of contraception, or denied the right to publicly oppose the use of contraception. Being required to offer insurance plans that cover contraception may constitute a burden, but it’s not the “substantial” one Sherbert requires. In Sherbert and Yoder, there was a clear, direct burden involved, not an incidental one.The idea that an irrefutable bare assertion of conflict with religious belief, no matter how trivial, is sufficient to make any state action subject to strict scrutiny is absurd. It’s an obviously unworkable standard, it’s not what the Court said in Sherbert, and it’s not the policy enacted by Congress, which also requires a “substantial” burden. The backdoor attempt to subject all regulations to strict scrutiny does, however, show what’s going on here: this case is about opposition to the ACA, not religious freedom.