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Supreme Court rules in favor of Hobby Lobby in contraceptive case

Jun 30, 2014

Chicago Tribune

I can't see how you can call it freedom of religion when the government forces a business that thinks abortion is wrong to provide free contraceptives for their employees.

If Hobby Lobby thinks abortion is a religious sin they should not have to help their employees commit that sin.

That's despite the fact that I am an atheist and don't believe in any supernatural deities. And that the government doesn't have any business telling a woman if she can or can't have an abortion or if she can or can't use contraceptives.

Of course a lot of my socialist atheist friends disagree with me on this an think that the government should be allowed to force private businesses to provide free contraceptives to woman.

I ask them do you think it would be OK for the government to required businesses to provide free Bible to their employees, under that guise that reading the Bible makes a person a more moral ethical person???

Supreme Court rules in favor of Hobby Lobby in contraceptive case

Tribune staff and wire reports

9:22 a.m. CDT, June 30, 2014

The Supreme Court dealt a setback to President Obama's health care law Monday and ruled that Christian business owners with religious objections to certain forms of birth control may refuse to provide their employees with insurance coverage for contraceptives.

In a major 5-4 ruling on religious freedom, the justices decided the religious rights of these company owners trump the rights of female employees to receive the full contraceptive coverage promised by the law.

The decision, written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., is a victory for social conservatives. It also could open the door for other businesses to claim a religious exemption from laws, including anti-discrimination measures that protects gays and lesbians.

The administration's lawyers had argued that a private, for-profit corporation, like the Hobby Lobby chain of arts and crafts stores, had never before been accorded rights based on religion.

But the court determined that the Green family from Oklahoma City which founded the chain, has a sincere religious belief that certain contraceptives destroy a fertilized egg and, therefore, are akin to an early abortion.

In the case, two family-owned companies, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, challenged the insurance requirement for certain employee birth control devices and methods as a violation of a 1993 religious-freedom law. The Oklahoma based arts-and-crafts retailer Hobby Lobby is controlled by evangelical Christians, and the Pennsylvania-based cabinet-manufacturer Conestoga Wood Specialties is owned by Mennonites. The healthcare law already exempts churches and religious-run entities from the contraceptive mandate.

The companies, and others involved in related lawsuits, do not oppose every type of birth control. Some object only to emergency contraceptive methods, such as the "morning-after" pill, which they view as akin to abortion.

The Obama administration contends for-profit corporations, even closely held ones, do not exercise religious rights as individuals do and are not covered by the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Corporate religion?

The Supreme Court has never held that a corporation can express religious beliefs, said Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center. "And it has never held that religious exercise provides a license to harm others, or violate the rights of third parties."

"At the level of their greatest potential," Lyle Denniston of Scotusblog writes, the cases "raise the profound cultural question of whether a private, profit-making business organized as a corporation can 'exercise' religion, and if it can, how far that is protected from government interference."

In fact, the courts have held again and again that even the most sincerely held religious beliefs cannot be invoked to illegally discriminate against people.

Companies cannot refuse to provide service to African Americans, for example, because of religious views against racial integration, said ACLU deputy legal director Louise Melling, who oversees the group's work on cases involving religious freedom, women’s rights and reproductive rights (and who sees no clash between those rights and the contraceptive mandate). Universities cannot refuse to racially integrate because of religious views.

Courts, she said, have also prevented schools from providing greater benefits to men than women because of religious views. And they have ruled against an employer who refused to provide health coverage to single mothers because he had a religious belief that women cannot be heads of household.

"Religious freedom is one of our most fundamental values," said Melling. "It gives us all the right to hold our beliefs, but it doesn't give you the right to impose your beliefs on others, to discriminate against others. Hobby Lobby is doing just that: If they don't provide contraception coverage consistent with the law ... it's a way of using religion to discriminate."

"We have had enough of this idea that our reproductive health is somehow separate from our economic security," said Hogue. A $30 or $40 per month birth control tab for a woman earning minimum wage, or close to it, is not an inconsequential amount.

Judicial split

During oral arguments in March, the justices seemed split along ideological lines, with the five conservative justices suggesting they might be ready to rule that certain for-profit entities have the same religious rights to object to federal requirements as individuals do.

In a 2010 case known as Citizens United, the five-justice conservative bloc enhanced corporate free speech rights when it struck down campaign finance regulation.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll of 10,693 people was conducted April 28-June 20, 2014. It found that 40 percent strongly disagreed and 13 percent somewhat disagreed with the idea that employers should be able to choose what forms of contraceptives their health plans provide based on their religious beliefs. It found that 20 percent strongly agreed and 15 percent somewhat agreed with the idea. The poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 1.1 percentage point.

The administration contends that if the court rules for the companies, the decision could lead to lawsuits by corporations against other federal requirements, including minimum-wage and Social Security tax laws. A company might also object, some liberal justices suggested during oral arguments, to providing coverage for vaccinations.

The only other pending case is over whether public employees can be forced to pay union dues. The case, Harris v. Quinn, tests whether Illinois may force in-home healthcare workers to pay union fees. It could have repercussions for public employee unions nationwide because, at its broadest, the question is whether mandatory union dues violate free speech rights. Under earlier cases, public-sector unions are allowed to collect money from workers who do not want union representation, if the money is not spent on political activities.

The contraception cases are Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Burwell, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 13-354 and No. 13-356. The other case is Harris v. Quinn U.S. Supreme Court, No. 11-681.

Reuters and the Los Angeles Times contributed to this report