The business owners are two brothers, Francis and Philip M. Gilardi, who own Freshway Foods and Freshway Logistics of Sidney, Ohio., and challenged the mandate on religious grounds. They say the mandate to provide contraceptive coverage would force them to violate their Roman Catholic beliefs and moral values by providing contraceptives such as the morning-after pill for their employees. The law already exempts houses of worship from the requirement.

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is one of several on the birth control issue, which likely will be resolved by the Supreme Court. There are at least three other rulings by federal appeals courts on the mandate: One sided with Oklahoma businesses; and two sided with the Obama administration in challenges brought by Pennsylvania and Michigan companies.

Writing for the majority, Judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote that the mandate "trammels the right of free exercise—a right that lies at the core of our constitutional liberties—as protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act."