A Washington, D.C. federal appeals court ruled that the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that group insurance plans cover contraceptives may be a violation of employers’ religious freedom — especially those employers whose religions don’t condone the use of contraception. The court’s ruling further intensifies a burgeoning split in the federal courts concerning the contraceptive coverage provision of the act.

Brothers Francis and Philip Gilardi, owners of Freshway Foods, challenged the constitutionality of the provision of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) that requires group health plans to provide coverage for contraceptive services. The brothers contended that providing contraceptive coverage to Freshway Foods’ employees would interfere with the free exercise of their religion, which is a fundamental right guaranteed under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Gilardis, practicing Catholics, said that the provision would make them choose between their religious beliefs and paying a multi-million dollar fine.

"They can either abide by the sacred tenets of their faith, pay a penalty of over $14 million, and cripple the companies they have spent a lifetime building, or they become complicit in a grave moral wrong,” wrote Judge Janice Rogers Brown. “If that is not substantial pressure on an adherent to modify his behavior and to violate his beliefs, we fail to see how the standard could be met."

The court sided with the brothers. Judge Brown, writing for the majority, said that being a corporation does not mean that the owners of Freshway Foods should have to lose their right to freely practice their religion.

"We do not believe Congress intended important statutory rights to turn on the manner in which an individual operates his businesses," Brown wrote.

The Gilardi brothers are not the first business owners to file suit challenging the Obamacare birth control mandate. In fact, at least 75 for-profit corporations across the country have filed separate suits opposing the requirement on religious grounds.

Prior to this ruling, at least three other federal courts have ruled on the contraceptive coverage requirement. The D.C. Circuit’s ruling conflicts with 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which both ruled that the Obamacare birth control mandate was constitutional earlier this year. The decision is aligned with a decision by the 10th Circuit in June — which leaves the federal courts evenly split on the issue of whether the contraceptive coverage requirement places a burden on the free exercise of religion.

Attorney Francis Manion, the attorney representing the Giraldi brothers, said that he’s pleased with the court’s decision but may still want to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court so that those justices can give the final word on the issue.

“We believe we need to ask the Supreme Court to decide the question left unanswered so that there will be no ambiguity about the protection afforded by this decision. Therefore, we intend to file a petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court next week," Manion said.