On June 30, 2014 the U.S. Supreme Court preserved religious liberty for some organizations that objected to provisions in the 2010 Affordable Care Act requiring businesses to purchase insurance coverage that includes contraception, abortifacent drugs and devices, and sterilization. The high court handed down a decision that said, “Hobby Lobby and similar employers cannot be forced to comply with the federal contraception mandate against their religious beliefs.”
The 5-4 ruling applies to closely held for-profit private businesses defined as when more than 50% of the stock is held by five people or less. Though the court did not address numerous lawsuits from non-profit groups over similar objections to the 2010 Affordable Care Act mandate, the ruling suggests that the mandate is in trouble with regard to non-profits too. In fact, almost immediately following the Supreme Court decision, federal circuit courts granted last minute temporary relief to several non-profit organizations while their cases are being heard.
Both the Green family – owners of Hobby Lobby, and the Hahn family, Mennonite owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties objected to the mandate’s requirements that they pay for abortion-inducing drugs.
The court stated that the ruling only concerns the contraceptive mandate, not all insurance-covered mandates for which there might be objections such as vaccinations or blood transfusions.
“Today the nation’s highest court has re-affirmed the vital importance of religious liberty as one of our country’s founding principles,” said Barbara Green, co-founder of Hobby Lobby. “The Court’s decision is a victory, not just for our family business, but for all who seek to live out their faith.”
While religious liberty advocates praised the decision, the White House expressed its disagreement. “We believe that the owners of for-profit companies should not be allowed to assert their own religious views,” said Josh Earnest, White House press secretary, “to deny their employees federally mandated benefits.”
He further revealed his animosity to the ruling by saying, “There is a problem that has been exposed – which is that there is a group of women of an indeterminate size who no longer have access to free contraceptive coverage simply because of some religious views that are held, not by them, but by their bosses.” He said the government would work with Congress to fix the problem he said had been created.
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the Supreme Court’s decision “outrageous,” in a June 30 Facebook post, saying that it set “a dangerous precedent” that would allow companies to “pick and choose which laws to obey.”
Obviously, the U.S. administration intended to restrict religious freedom by issuing the mandates in the first place. “If the government wanted to ensure that employees of “closely-held” companies were provided with contraceptive coverage,” Justice Kennedy wrote in a concurring opinion, “it could devise a funding scheme to provide that coverage.
The free exercise clause of the U.S. Constitution’s first amendment does not just refer to freedom of worship, but to the freedom to exercise religious beliefs in ones personal life including his business in the public market place. There is every reason to be concerned that future legislation promoted by an increasingly secular society and government will infringe on freedom of conscience.
The ruling significantly weakens the Obamacare contraception mandate and strengthens the arguments of religious non-profit organizations that have filed more than 50 lawsuits seeking similar relief. Though the court restricted its ruling to closely held corporations, its logic could easily apply to much larger companies, including non-profits.
Though the angels appear to be holding back the “winds of strife,” it is clear that when the government’s interest conflicts with the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution, it does not want to protect the religious liberty of those who object on religious grounds. It took the Supreme Court to protect the Bill of Rights, at least for the time being. Will this principle apply to a day of worship some day?