Civil and Human Rights

Diverse groups weigh in on Hobby Lobby case

Christians, Jews, atheists, scholars, members of Congress and many others file legal briefs in contraception case before the U.S. Supreme Court

 

By Chris Casteel

 

WASHINGTON – Christians, Jews, atheists, members of Congress, physicians, scholars, lawyers, state attorneys general, women’s groups and others weighed in last week on the Hobby Lobby contraception case before the Supreme Court.

 

Dozens of “friend of the court” briefs were filed with the high court in the Hobby Lobby case and a closely related one.

 

The large majority support Hobby Lobby’s position that a federal law protects the Oklahoma City-based arts-and-crafts chain from a government mandate in the Affordable Care Act to provide contraceptives in its health-care coverage.

 

The justices are scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case on March 25, with a ruling expected this summer.

 

The Obama administration is asking justices to reverse a ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Hobby Lobby and the Christian bookstore chain Mardel, which is owned by the same Oklahoma City family, have the same rights as corporations that individuals have under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

 

A similar case involving a Pennsylvania furniture company owned by Mennonite Christians will be heard at the same time; in that case, a federal appeals court ruled that the company, Conestoga Wood, did not have the same First Amendment religious protections as individuals.

 

The cases have the potential to set major legal precedents for the free exercise of religion. They also have huge implications for the Affordable Care Act’s goal of reducing health-care costs for women.

 

Hobby Lobby and Mardel are closely held corporations owned by David Green and his family and operated according to the family’s Christian beliefs.

 

The companies are not objecting to all of the contraceptives mandated by the law, only those they consider abortion-inducing — emergency contraceptives and intrauterine devices.

 

The case poses a relatively straightforward question – whether for-profit corporations are protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. If a majority of justices decide corporations have the protection, they will have to move on to more nuanced tests of whether the contraception mandate imposes a substantial burden on religious exercise and whether the government had a compelling reason to impose that burden and did it in the narrowest way possible.

 

Legal briefs filed by a range of groups last week sought to influence the justices’ viewpoints on the specific factors at play and potential ramifications of rulings. Most members of Oklahoma’s all-Republican congressional delegation joined in a brief supporting Hobby Lobby, and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt filed his own on the company’s side.

 

For Hobby Lobby

 

“Religious entrepreneurs should never have to choose between allegiance to the state and faithfulness to God when their beliefs can be accommodated without sacrificing public peace or safety.”

 

Liberty Life and Law Foundation, Thomas More Society, Christian Family Coalition

 

“The government cannot force individuals to forfeit their free exercise rights when they incorporate a business — just as it cannot force individuals to forsake these liberties when they enter the workforce, attend school, or engage in any other secular pursuit.”

 

Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank

 

“As the Mandate forces them to do precisely what their religion forbids, it is beyond question that it imposes a substantial burden on Hobby Lobby’s and Conestoga’s religious exercise.”

 

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

 

Against exemption

 

“If Hobby Lobby can deploy RFRA to block coverage of women’s reproductive health, the next believer will argue against vaccinations, and the next against screenings for children or domestic violence screening and counseling.”

 

— Freedom From Religion Foundation and other groups, including Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests

 

“(An exemption) would allow business owners to impose their personal religious beliefs on their employees. Such a ruling would turn the First Amendment on its head, allowing secular, for-profit businesses to enforce a religious orthodoxy in the workplace.”

 

— Constitutional Accountability Center

 

“(An exemption) would deprive Hobby Lobby’s thousands of female employees and the covered female dependents of all employees of this entitlement. This, in turn, would saddle them with significant burdens….”

 

— Law professors who teach and write on church-state issues

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