WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court has struck down a key mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), ruling for the first time “closely held” companies may exercise their religious opinions and conscientiously object to providing abortion-inducing contraceptives to employees through their health insurance plans.
Writing for the majority in Burwell (Sebelius) v. Hobby Lobby on June 30, Justice Samuel Alito claimed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) provides individually or family-owned businesses, such as Hobby Lobby, with protections against government mandates that violate religious conscience.
“Our responsibility is to enforce the RFRA as written, and under the standard the RFRA prescribes, the HHS (Health and Human services) contraceptive mandate is unlawful,” Alito wrote. In finding in favor of Hobby Lobby, the court affirmed the ruling of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and reversed the verdict of the 3rd Circuit.
“The U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision reaffirms one of the bedrock principles – freedom of religion – upon which America was founded,” said Larry Page, executive director of the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council. “The U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services (HHS), under the Affordable Care Act, mandated that
employers secure insurance coverage that provides contraceptives for workers. Hobby Lobby offered insurance coverage to its female employees that provided 16 of the 20 contraceptives approved by the Federal Drug Administration. Based upon the deeply held religious tenets of the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, the company’s coverage excluded four contraceptives that are abortifacients (abortion-inducing drugs).
“Pursuant to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 1993, the Supreme Court justices found that the HHS contraceptive mandate violated the Green family’s First Amendment rights to freedom of religion. A key excerpt from the court’s ruling provides the essence of the decision. ‘The plain terms of RFRA makes it perfectly clear that Congress did not discriminate … against men and women who wish to run their businesses as for-profit corporations in the manner required by their religious beliefs,’” said Page.
“While we are thankful for this correct decision by the land’s highest court and for the way it has reaffirmed the principle of religious freedom, we must be ever vigilant to defend against the seemingly constant attacks on this nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage and the mores, customs, standards and laws that have emanated from them,” he said.
Ronnie Floyd, newly elected Southern Baptist Convention president, said of the ruling, “I am thrilled at the ruling because it affirms that religious liberty is a core value of our great nation. The American people won a great victory today against governmental overreach. It serves as a strong reminder to each of us that the First Amendment extends to individuals and business owners, not just to churches and other houses of worship.”
Hobby Lobby filed suit in federal court after the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Under the law, the company was required to provide insurance coverage for nearly 20 forms of contraception, including four that resulted in abortions. One of those was the “morning-after pill,” which causes the spontaneous abortion of an implanted, fertilized egg. Since the company’s owners believe life begins at conception, they objected on religious grounds and were threatened with massive fines for noncompliance with the ACA.
Mardel Christian Bookstores, founded by Mart Green, joined the case with Hobby Lobby, and in a separate case, Norman and Sam Hahn, owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties, also challenged the ACA’s contraceptive mandate in court.
Both Conestoga and Hobby Lobby lost their pleas for injunction in district court, and the 3rd Circuit upheld the denial of the injunctions. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, however, reversed the decision, setting the cases on a path to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The government maintained throughout the proceedings at the Supreme Court that the federal government had a “compelling interest” in mandating the coverage of contraceptives. The court, however, decided in a 5-4 decision there was no such interest when measured against the provisions of the RFRA.
Alito also wrote that Hobby Lobby’s Christian character was an inseparable part of the fabric of the company. The company’s purpose statement commits its leaders to honoring the Lord and operating by a set of biblical principles, such as remaining closed on Sundays, refusing to facilitate or promote the use of alcohol, contributing to Christian ministries and missions and running newspaper advertisements with an evangelistic purpose.
Hobby Lobby was founded in 1970 in the Green family garage after the family borrowed $600 to manufacture miniature picture frames. Today, the company employs more than 13,000 people in 572 stores across the nation. Mardel Christian Bookstores, founded in 1981, now has 35 locations in seven states. The company gives 10 percent of its corporate profits toward Bible translation.
Compiled from Arkansas Baptist News and Baptist Press reports.