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In a very tightly defined ruling, the Supreme Court has ruled that Hobby Lobby and other closely held for-profit corporations may opt out of the Obamacare’s provisions for no-cost prescription contraception in most health insurance plans. The companies’ owners had objected on the grounds of religious freedom. The Court went out of its way to make sure this a very narrow ruling, making clear that this ruling only applies to closely held corporations, the Obamacare contraceptive rules, and not to coverage such as blood transfusions and immunizations, which is a common argument by those who object to the Hobby Lobby case.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion which was concurred with by Justices Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Kennedy, which contends that closely held corporations (stock not traded owned by a few people) are entitled to their religious beliefs but other less restrictive methods of granting contraceptives could have been developed by HHS and congress. For example the government is already paying for the coverage for not for profit religious organizations. The majority opinion says the government can make the same accomodations for closely held corporations such as Hobby Lobby.

In holding that the HHS mandate is unlawful, we reject HHS’s argument that the owners of the companies forfeited all RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993] protection when they decided to organize their businesses as corporations rather than sole proprietorships or general partnerships. The plain terms of RFRA make it perfectly clear that Congress did not discriminate in this way against men and women who wish to run their businesses as for-profit corporations in the manner required by their religious beliefs.

Since RFRA applies in these cases, we must decide whether the challenged HHS regulations substantially burden the exercise of religion, and we hold that they do. The owners of the businesses have religious objections toa bortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients. If the owners comply with the HHS mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions, and if they do not comply,they will pay a very heavy price—as much as $1.3 million per day, or about $475 million per year, in the case of one of the companies. If these consequences do not amount to a substantial burden, it is hard to see what would.

Under RFRA, a Government action that imposes a substantial burden on religious exercise must serve a compelling government interest, and we assume that the HHS regulations satisfy this requirement. But in order for the HHS mandate to be sustained, it must also constitute the least restrictive means of serving that interest, and the mandate plainly fails that test. There are other ways in which Congress or HHS could equally ensure that every woman has cost-free access to the particular contraceptives at issue here and, indeed, to all FDA-approved contraceptives. 

Alito also makes sure this ruling does not apply to other medical treatments which may face religious objections. Basically the court ruled that the Religious rights and the needs of the government need to be balance.  The fact that the Government is already paying for contraception coverage for religious institutions means there is other ways for the government to balance out its needs to meet its objectives of free contraceptive coverage.

In any event, our decision in these cases is concerned solely with the contraceptive mandate. Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs. Other coverage requirements, such as immunizations, may be supported by different interests (for example, the need to combat the spread of infectious diseases) and may involve different arguments about the least restrictive means of providing them.

The principal dissent raises the possibility that discrimination in hiring, for example on the basis of race, might be cloaked as religious practice to escape legal sanction. See post, at 32–33. Our decision today provides no such shield. The Government has a compelling interest in providing an equal opportunity to participate in the workforce without regard to race, and prohibitions on racial discrimination are precisely tailored to achieve that critical goal.

Progressives will say this decision is a major lost for a woman’s reproductive rights.  I would disagree, it is not a win or lost for reproductive rights, it is a win for religious freedom and a recognition that faith does not end at the door of a house of worship.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus agrees: 

“This decision protects the religious freedom that is guaranteed to all Americans by the First Amendment, and we’re grateful the Court ruled on the side of liberty. The central issue of this case was whether the federal government can coerce Americans to violate their deeply held religious beliefs, and thankfully the Court has upheld the proper limits on the government’s power.

“The fact that Americans had to bring this case in the first place reveals once again just how intrusive ObamaCare is. It’s a misguided one-size-fits-all policy that not only failed to fix our healthcare system but has trampled on our Constitutional rights. Americans deserve a healthcare system that allows them to make the right choices for themselves, gives them more freedom, and comes nowhere close to encroaching on our First Amendment rights.”

The full decision is embedded below.

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