Earlier this week, the United States Supreme Court heard the oral arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., the latest major challenge to the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. is a landmark case that addresses the constitutionally guaranteed rights of business owners in regards to religious freedoms. Hobby Lobby, a large chain of arts and craft stores with 13,000 employees, claims that the company should not have to provide insurance coverage for two types of contraception—IUDs and morning-after pills—because of their constitutionally protected religious rights. The case is currently in its earliest stages of litigation, and will be decided by June.
According to the Supreme Court of the United States Blog, the issue at hand pertains to “Whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), allows a for-profit corporation to deny its employees the health coverage of contraceptives to which the employees are otherwise entitled by federal law, based on the religious objections of the corporation’s owners.” The RFRA “provides that the government ‘shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion’ unless that burden is the least restrictive means to further a compelling governmental interest,” explains the SCOTUS Blog.Basically, it is for the Supreme Court to decide if Hobby Lobby, a for-profit business, should be responsible for providing employees insurance coverage for contraceptive-related services, or if doing so is indeed a violation of the company’s freedom of religion.
As many lawyers, reporters, and women’s rights activists have pointed out, it’s individual people that have access to first amendment rights and protections, not corporations. Legal analyst Kendall Coffey explains that “Corporations are basically a form in which a bunch of people, sometimes a few, sometimes thousands and thousands, do business and those people have constitutional rights and they have First Amendment rights,” of one way that the Supreme Court might look at this case. Because companies are comprised of people, the Supreme Court may find that for-profit corporations do have rights that extend from the rights of their owners.
“It’s our rights that are being infringed upon to require us to do something against our conscience,” explains Hobby Lobby founder and CEO David Green of his belief that providing coverage for the two contraceptive services violates his religious freedom. Conversely, former Clinton administration Solicitor General Walter Dellinger, who reportedly filed a brief siding with the government, argues, “What you really have is one family attempting to utilize their economic leverage to impose their religious beliefs on others,” of how Hobby Lobby employees should be free to oppose those beliefs if they choose.
The case has certainly gained an immense amount of national attention for its unprecedented nature. It will undoubtedly be a long and divided judicial process, but you can expect to hear the verdict by summer.