Supreme Court Rules for Hobby Lobby, Corporate Religious Rights


Read more of our coverage on the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases here.

In a 5-4 decision Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, holding that the contraceptive coverage requirement in the Affordable Care Act violates their religious rights.

Justice Samuel Alito delivered the majority opinion for the Court, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Justice Anthony Kennedy filed a concurring opinion. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg led the dissenting justices, along with Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Stephen Breyer.

According to the majority, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) does extend to closely held corporations under the statute’s definition of “person,” which means the businesses could challenge the law’s requirement that employers who provide health insurance to their employees not discriminate in that coverage. “A corporation is simply a form of organizing used by human beings to achieve desired ends,” the Court noted. “When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations the purpose is to protect the rights of these people.”

Once the majority established that the RFRA’s definition of “person” includes closely held corporations, the Court found it possible for corporations to “exercise religion” and that although these businesses are for-profit entities, that is not a barrier to practicing those beliefs.

Having established that the RFRA covers closely held corporations and that those corporations can exercise religious beliefs, the majority then ruled that the contraceptive benefit in the Affordable Care Act did substantially burden the exercise of religious rights because it requires the owners to engage in conduct that seriously violates their sincere religious belief that life begins at conception. Furthermore, the majority held, while providing access to contraceptive coverage, the coverage rule was not the least restrictive means for the Obama administration to achieve this goal.

“This is a deeply troubling decision. For the first time, the highest court in the country has said that business owners can use their religious beliefs to deny their employees a benefit that they are guaranteed by law,” said Louise Melling, the deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, in a statement. “Religious freedom is a fundamental right, but that freedom does not include the right to impose beliefs on others. In its ruling today, the Court simply got it wrong.”

According to the Court, the government has several options to provide contraceptive coverage that would not violate religious beliefs under the RFRA. Those options include assuming the costs related to coverage or to provide closely held corporations the same accommodation to the requirement as those provided to religiously affiliated nonprofits.

To date, more than 50 lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of that accommodation have been filed, including cases by the University of Notre Dame and the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, said in a statement that the reach of the decision would mean many employees’ basic health-care rights are subject to the whims of their employers. “While the Court left the basic contraceptive coverage provision in place and did not question that there is a compelling need for such health care, women working at these and similar companies could be denied the basic birth control coverage they need and deserve and saddled with higher costs for essential contraceptive care.”

Kierra Johnson, executive director of Choice USA, noted the impact of the decision on young workers. “Today’s decision will have far reaching consequences for young people who have benefited greatly from no-copay birth control coverage,” she said. “For young people, who often face the greatest financial strain from healthcare costs, this decision will surely mean more will be unable to afford critical healthcare.”

The majority opinion stated specifically that the decision “concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to hold that all insurance-coverage mandates e.g., for vaccinations or blood transfusions must necessarily fall if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs.” While this appears to be a limiting principle, like the Court’s holding the RFRA only belongs to closely held corporations and not all corporations like those that are publicly traded, it remains to be seen if that’s true.

Justice Ginsburg called the decision one of “startling breadth,” noting that “the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.” Justice Ginsburg also criticized the majority’s insistence that the decision was narrow, noting that during oral arguments, counsel for Hobby Lobby told the Court that other religious exemptions in cases such as vaccine refusals would “have to be evaluated on its own.”

The problem, Justice Ginsburg notes, is that now courts will be in the business of evaluating the sincerity of religious claims. “There in an overriding interest, I believe, in keeping the courts ‘out of the business of evaluation the elate merits of differing religious claims’ or the sincerity with which an asserted religious belief is held,” Ginsburg wrote. “Indeed, approving some religious claims while demeaning others unworthy of accommodation could be ‘perceived as favoring one religion over another,’ the very ‘risk the Establishment Clause was designed to preclude.'”

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  • fiona64

    The majority opinion stated specifically
    that the decision “concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should
    not be understood to hold that all insurance-coverage mandates e.g., for
    vaccinations or blood transfusions must necessarily fall if they
    conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs.”

    Yep … because MEN might need those things.

    Welcome to the USA, where corporations are people but women are not.

    • Shan

      That sums it up so sadly.

    • expect_resistance

      I am horrified and sickened by this decision. WTF! Really, what next? I’m afraid to ask.

    • kitler

      Omfg the hypocrisy.

  • red_zone

    I foresee many, many problems with this this. The SCOTUS will have to revist this again when it’s demonstrated how colossally they screwed up.

    • Shan

      I wonder how the revisiting would even happen? Maybe Unicorn Farm could shed some light.

      • red_zone

        The point about the Establishment Clause is an angle that needs to be used. The Supreme Court just basically said companies who are run by specifically religious people can use that as an excuse to deny people certain health care coverage for specific things. The SCOTUS has now placed a very unnecessary burden onto courts in deciding if a companies claimed ‘religious beliefs’ should dictate what kind of coverage people should get and for what. It also does open the door, not just for vaccines, but for blood transfusions, heart attacks, obesity, you name it. If an employer can claim ‘religious exemption’ to avoid covering the costs of anything that would cover and address those, what’s an employee to do?

        In effect, this RULING could be seen as unconstitutional because it gives religious preference-and unbalanced power- to companies, which would violate individual religious rights. Which ARE PROTECTED by the Constitution.

        • Shan

          “It also does open the door, not just for vaccines, but for blood transfusions, heart attacks, obesity, you name it.”

          But did the ruling not also say that blood transfusions were NOT exempt? If so, then I think the Establishment Clause angle would be a good one. But, then, I’m not a lawyer.

          • red_zone

            Businesses run by Jehova’s Witnesses could easily debate that in court if they say they don’t want to cover blood transfusions, as their religion doesn’t permit them to. Which creates a problem in courts across the country and burdens THEM with deciding.

            When you think about it, this could also be seen as a direct violation of individual rights down the road.

          • Shan

            Part of Ginsburg’s dissent:

            “Approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of
            accommodation could be ‘perceived as favoring one religion over
            another,’ the very ‘risk the [Constitution’s] Establishment Clause was
            designed to preclude.”

          • red_zone

            Exactly.

            Which means the SCOTUS ruled in error and needs to be overturned.

          • paganheart

            Actually the Supes were careful to say that this decision applies
            ONLY to the contraception mandate, not to things like JW’s and their anti-science objections to blood. (The Roberts court does love to thread their little tiny needles that way.)

            Of course, now that this can of worms is open, that probably does mean that some JW business owner somewhere is going to try and claim that he doesn’t have to pay for his employees’ blood transfusions or vaccines becuz duh jeebus…in hopes that someone will file a lawsuit that gets to the SCOTUS, so they too can have their wacked-out religious beliefs codified into law.

            Unfortunately, I am afraid that the SCOTUS may have also just handed a big, gay-bashing stick to “closely held,” homophobic bakers, photographers, and other business owners looking for excuses to deny wedding services to gay couples–or any business services at all for that matter. Now when they get sued for discrimination, they can just say “my buybull sez teh gays make jeebus cry, so i dont gotz to do bizness with them. Duh SCOTUS sez so, cuz Im a closly held corp.”

            I hate my country today.

          • bitchybitchybitchy

            I think the SCOTUS needs a very healthy dose of first amendment activity come the October term-protesters in front of the court every day that they are in session. Better yet, get the home addresses of the five justices who voted for this and picket their homes.

  • paganheart

    There’s a Hobby Lobby store about 2 miles from my house, and for about 20 minutes this morning, I seriously contemplated how many years in prison I would get if I threw a Molotov cocktail through their front door, and if it would be worth it. In the end, I decided it would not. I didn’t want to stoop down to their level.

    That said, it is time to get angry. It is time to boycott Hobby Lobby and every other company that was part of this horrendous suit. It is time to boycott any company that does business with any of these vile companies. It is time to vow that women and the men who support them will will not work for companies that do not provide full contraceptive coverage for their employees. Vote with your feet and wallets, and drive them into bankruptcy court.

    It is time to name these companies publicly on social media, blame them and
    shame them. It is time to flood their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds
    with constant reminders about what horrible, women-hating religious
    freaks they are. It is time to harass them and shame them the same way
    they slut-shame and harass women who dare to promote the idea that women are full human beings, not the walking wombs and brainless slaves that they and their twisted religion would have us be.

    It is time to fight for universal, single-payer healthcare coverage that covers all reproductive health services for women and men, and takes healthcare coverage decisions out of of the hands of employers. In what may be the ultimate irony, since many of the anti-birth control crowd are also against universal healthcare, I think this decision may very well hasten the day when the US joins the rest of the civilized world in providing universal healthcare to all its citizens.

    Toward that end it is time to vote in every election and encourage all women and the men who support them to do the same. It is time to register and get out the vote for candidates who support universal reproductive health services access, with no exceptions. It is time to make it clear that only those candidates who are pro-reproductive choice, pro-birth control, and pro science-based, comprehensive sex education deserve to hold office, and all others must be consigned to the dustbin of history before they turn the US into a third-world chistian-facist corporate state, no better than Iran or Afghanistan, and probably worse. Because make no mistake, that is the ultimate goal of these christo-facist freaks.

    Come on ladies, (and the men who support us) it is time to Raise. Fucking. Hell.

    • bitchybitchybitchy

      It’s also time to call for legislation banning ALL federal funding of any religious institution, including hospitals and faith-based organizations. If those groups want to impose their bigoted, ignorant views on others than they can damn well do it without my tax dollars.

      • Damien Johnson

        oh but you want to impose your bigoted, ignorant, pro-child-murder views on others with my tax dollars. Please.

        • bitchybitchybitchy

          What I would like would be genuine separation of church and state.
          I would also like to see women respected as the equal of men, and free to make their own decisions about their own lives. Apparently you have a problem with respecting the rights of women who want to make up their own minds about if and when they have children.

        • fiona64

          If you know of anyone who is murdering children, contact your local law enforcement agency at once.

          Oh, and learn how compensation packages work, dumbass.

          Your “tax dollars” have not, and will not, go for anyone’s abortion (even in the cases of a female soldier impregnated by rape) thanks to the misogynistic Hyde Amendment.

          • Damien Johnson

            abortion IS murdering children, period. And of course you fail to realize that true misogyny is the murder of innocent girls, as well as the misandry of murdering innocent boys. I don’t particularly care about you calling me a dumbass since I don’t respect you fembots in the first place.

          • kitler

            abortion is self defense

          • fiona64

            Oh, sweetie. Words have meanings, you know?

            Murder is the unlawful (illegal) taking of a person’s life with malice aforethought.

            Abortion is a legal medical procedure, so you fail on that point alone. Furthermore, a zygote/embryo/fetus is not a person … so you fail there, too.

            I do notice that you erase the pregnant woman from the picture, though. Why is that?

            You are doing a jim-dandy job of proving how easy it is to be an anti-choice male, though. You just wave your ignorant paw in the air and pronounce on how much medical, financial and physical risk a woman should undergo with gestation … risks you’ll never have to assume! Isn’t that fabulous and convenient for you?

    • P. McCoy

      Problems seem to go in cycles; sadly young women do not appreciate the reproductive rights that their elders fought for forty years ago. It seems sadly that it may very well take women mained and dying from illegal abortions, rape victims and women in general forced to give birth because they have no legal access to various forms of birth control to galvanize them into action to make reproductive rights secure and protected from the whims of religious fascists.

      • bitchybitchybitchy

        I hate the thought of more women being subjected to illegal abortions, and possibly dying. It’s well worth remembering that the right to birth control is relatively recent-the Griswold decision was, what, 50 years ago?

  • http://twitter.com/#!/dameocrat Dameocrat

    Not surprised by the decision. I think it is a real strategic mistake for feminists to put all their hopes in the courts rather than demanding politicians that pay attention to us. We have no leverage what so ever on how they vote.

  • c_mclaughlin

    Don’t think for one minute that the Christain Taliban is going to stop here. This decision just gave them all the ammunition they need to go after any groups that the do not like, which is pretty much anyone who does agree with their narrow bigoted outlook. There will be more discrimination against women, what is to say that a fundie company cannot employ a woman because women should be at home under the care of her husband or father? And they will go full bore against LGBT because, you know, the “bible tells them so”, and the court just gave them the legal right to do so. These people will not be happy until gays are back in the closet, women are back in the kitchen, and blacks are at the back of the bus.

    • P. McCoy

      You mean the restoration of Jim Crow and a Christian fascism so oppressive that it will make Hitler’s tyranny look like a picnic.

      • c_mclaughlin

        The only positive is maybe it has finally mobilized women against th GOP. The ruling is discrimation writ large. They made sure to state that it did not cover any “deeply held” religious belief that might affect men, only those against women. And yes it opens the door to any business to say “no” because I find your lifestyle wrong according to my god. The well bought conservatives of the court have done what the founders found objectionable, made the religion of one group superior over another.

        • Renee Goodwin

          One giant step, back towards the damn fifth century, I never thought I would see something like this in my lifetime, the Supreme Court just imbedded into case law a legal precedent to discriminate against women, beyond disgusting, and this is only the beginning of the worst

          • c_mclaughlin

            if only the dems would use this, and use it like the gop has done for the past 40 years.

  • BJ Survivor

    I just have no words for the rage I feel at this decision. WTF? Women’s health care can be ignored based on any old Joe’s “closely held religious beliefs” because it’s only those silly wimmens, am I right?

    • expect_resistance

      I hear you. I’m seriously pissed off and my blood is boiling mad. I hope this will be back in court and challenged.

      • Renee Goodwin

        I kid you not, I had a Doctor appointment and my blood pressure was higher than normal, maybe I shouldn’t read the news first thing in the morning, I had tears in my eyes after seeing this in the news today

        • expect_resistance

          Lucky for me or not, I found out after work today and nearly lost my shit. I’m so pissed off I’m trying to redirect my anger on getting some hard core cleaning done. While at the same time I’m yelling obscenities. Rrrrrr. Must chill out and organize. Glad I’m in good company. Having the community here helps keep my sanity.

          • Renee Goodwin

            I went out and weed-wacked for an hour and a half, that helped a little but now my whole body hurts

          • Unicorn Farm

            I refreshed SCOTUSblog all morning until the decision came out. Then came hours of rage among all my (smart) lawyer friends. I barely got anything done and this day hasn’t started off on a better foot, especially now that all the sexist responses are coming out of the woodwork.

          • kitler
    • kitler

      Wb bj!!!!

  • DanH

    Well my God a loving God says I’m supposed to oppose evil, so I keep working against the GOP.

  • DaSarge

    “Congress shall make no law concerning an establishment of religion”. And that also means tat Congress may not FORCE any religious person to do a thing that violates any thing that is a religiously (based) abhorrent thing. Hobby Lobby was reacting to being forced to participate in an action by the Federal Government that was completely abhorrent to their personal faith (the principals of the holding corp over the business)[…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]

    • Shan

      ” Hobby Lobby was reacting to being forced to participate in an action by
      the Federal Government that was completely abhorrent to their personal
      faith”

      They were already doing it. Most state laws required they do it.

    • fiona64

      Except for one problem, dumbass … the court DID make a ruling respecting a religion, in direct violation of the establishment clause, when they said that Hobby Lobby’s specific religious objections had to be accommodated … but not those of JWs w/regard to blood transfusions, etc.

      Nice racist touch at the end there, loser.

  • DanH

    The next case

    My corporation worships God Bob and God Bob says that cancer is caused by sin and should take is natural course.Since it is our corporations firmly held religious belief that cancer treatments are anti Bob this corporation will no longer cover cancer treatment under our insurance plan.Cancer treatments are available but you will have to pay for them yourself or quit sinning.

    God Bob the corporate God if you don’t like it or it is to expensive Bob is against it Bob hath spoken.

    Do you think SCOTUS will be able to claim that one religion is better than another.One religion deserves protection but another does not.I see a big mess coming I just hope enough women and young people take up coming elections seriously enough to vote.

    and yes God Bob is satire but could you prove some one does not firmly believe in Bob?

  • fiona64

    Shorter Damien: Blahblahblah I’m a misogynistic POS blahblahblah.

  • fiona64

    He’s a special kind of MRA idiot,, isn’t he?

  • John Smythe

    Pay for your own birth control just like I pay for my condoms. If you really knew what that shit did your bodies you wouldn’t take it anyway.

    • kitler

      Women do pay, its called the insurance premium.

      And condoms are cheap, OTC, and less effective than female birth control.