Attempting to expand religious expression protections without significantly disrupting the rules that govern for-profit corporations, the Supreme Court on Monday ruled that the Obama administration must exempt closely-held firms like Hobby Lobby from a rule requiring large companies to help pay for their employees' birth control.
The ruling is a loss for reproductive rights advocates who have balked at the notion that some businesses can pick and choose which contraception methods to cover. While it's a victory for Christian conservatives opposed to the contraception rule, the ruling skirts the broad ramifications that could have come from shielding all for-profit firms from laws that interfere with religious beliefs.
Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. -- two privately-held, for-profit companies -- sued the United States government over a provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires companies with more than 50 employees to provide comprehensive health coverage (including contraception) or pay a fine. Hobby Lobby's owners, David and Barbara Green of Oklahoma, say they have strong objections based in their Christian faith to providing health care coverage for certain types of contraception. The Pennsylvania-based Hahn family, the Mennonite owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties, had the same complaint.
For Christian conservatives, the Obamacare rule represents the threat of government overreach. However, granting all for-profit firms the freedom of religious expression could have opened the floodgates for unprecedented corporate protections. Such a ruling, the administration argued, could have interfered with laws that ban gender discrimination, minimum wage and overtime laws, or mandated health coverage for vaccinations, to name a few.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin says the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Hobby Lobby case over contraceptives protects "religious liberty" and defends citizens from an "overreaching, overbearing federal government."
The Republican governor issued the statement Monday praising the court's decision, which said that some corporations can hold religious objections that allow them to opt out of the new health law requirement that they cover contraceptives for women.
Fallin also congratulated the Oklahoma City-based company for working to "protect the freedoms enjoyed by all Americans."
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt says the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Hobby Lobby case over contraceptives is a key victory for "religious liberty in America."
The Republican attorney general issued a statement Monday praising the narrow ruling in which the nation's highest court said some corporations can hold religious objections that allow them to opt out of the new health law requirement that they cover contraceptives for women.
Hobby Lobby is based in Oklahoma City, and Pruitt supported the company during each stage of its lawsuit with friend of the court briefs in support of Hobby Lobby's positions.
Barbara Green, Hobby Lobby Co-founder, issued the following statement,
"Our family is overjoyed by the Supreme Court's decision. Today the nation's highest court has re-affirmed the vital importance of religious liberty as one of our country's founding principles. The Court's decision is a victory, not just for our family business, but for all who seek to live out their faith. We are grateful to God and to those who have supported us on this difficult journey."
Representative James Lankford (R-Okla.) expressed his support after the Supreme Court released its decision that Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby is not required to provide abortifacient drugs to its employees under Obamacare's mandate.
"The court's decision today in favor of Hobby Lobby affirms every Americans' constitutional right to religious liberty. In a time when our constitutional liberties are under attack, today's decision represents a significant victory to preserve those rights. I applaud Hobby Lobby and its owners for tenaciously pursuing protection of religious liberty on behalf of themselves, their employees and all Americans.
The Court's opinion affirmed that the President cannot tell individuals with sincere religious beliefs they can only practice their faith in the privacy of their home but not in other areas of their life. In addition to the religious liberty victory, this decision also limits this Administration's capacity to fine faith-based companies out of existence for failing to comport with the President's beliefs. Since the case centers around companies with greater than fifty employees, it would have created an arbitrary change in citizen rights and companies who grow past fifty people. The Court rejected the argument that if your company grows past fifty people, you lose your religious freedom.
Obamacare's individual mandate required Hobby Lobby to provide free coverage, including drugs that can cause abortions, in their employer-sponsored health plans or face fines of $36,500 per employee per year. Obamacare would have forced Hobby Lobby to decide between complying with rules that violated their beliefs or drop healthcare coverage for all employees and direct them to the Obamacare exchanges, for which Hobby Lobby would have been fined $2,000 per employee per year.
People of faith should never be compelled by the federal government to choose between practicing their faith and participating in the market. As Americans, we pride ourselves on empowering any individual, regardless of faith, to live the American dream. We should not allow secularism to dictate the free practice of religion.
Hobby Lobby never argued against the ability for women to access contraceptives; they simply do not believe in being forced by the federal government to cover abortifacients. Today's decision merely protects a closely held corporation like Hobby Lobby from being forced to pay for drugs that could cause abortions that go against their Christian beliefs.
When Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in 1993, they rightfully reaffirmed religious liberty for all Americans. The day-to-day operation of a closely held company should not include losing any of their enumerated rights to liberty. In a time when so many things in Washington diminish hope for our nation's future, this ruling is a breath of fresh air.
In September 2012, Oklahoma City-based, family-owned Hobby Lobby filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma over the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate to provide four specific potentially life-terminating drugs and medical devices in the healthcare plans offered to employees.
After a lengthy battle in the District Court and Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals on November 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari to Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (now Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.) Hobby Lobby then presented their oral argument before the Court on March 25, 2014, with a decision issued today."
Members of Oklahoma's Republican congressional delegation are praising the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in a case involving Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby.
U.S. Sens. Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe issued statements Monday in support of the court's decision and praising the company's owners, the Green family. U.S. Reps. Jim Bridenstine, Tom Cole, James Lankford and Markwayne Mullin also hailed the ruling as one in favor of religious liberty.
An attorney for the Hobby Lobby crafts store chain says the company isn't being hypocritical when it opts out of the new health care law while at the same time aiming to influence the public school system with a Bible-based curriculum.
Hobby Lobby attorney Mark Rienzi said during a teleconference Monday that the company is free to "go out into the public square and argue for what they want."