In a 5-4 decision Monday June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that some for-profit companies can cite religious convictions to opt out of the contraception mandate that would have required all businesses to provide free contraceptives — including those that can cause abortion — to their employees. The decision represents a huge blow to President Obama's “Affordable Health Care” law, and a victory for scores of businesses that have claimed that the mandate would require them to violate their belief that all life is sacred.
The ruling came in favor of two family-held companies — Hobby Lobby, owned by the Green family, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, owned by the Hahn family — both of whom had said that the mandate would represent an unacceptable moral obstacle to their businesses. Both companies faced millions of dollars in fines for refusing to make available abortion-inducing contraceptive drugs to their employees. Hobby Lobby and another company owned by the Greens faced as much as $1.3 million in fines for CEO David Green's resolute refusal to bow to the mandate. “This legal challenge has always remained about one thing and one thing only,” said Green when his company first filed suit to stop the mandate — “the right of our family businesses to live out our sincere and deeply held religious convictions as guaranteed by the law and the Constitution.”
Five Supreme Court justices sided with the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga owners, citing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to reject the efforts of the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to force the owners of the Christian-based businesses to violate their consciences in order to fulfill the requirements of the mandate.
“In holding that the HHS mandate is unlawful, we reject HHS’s argument that the owners of the companies forfeited all RFRA protection when they decided to organize their businesses as corporations rather than sole proprietorships or general partnerships,” wrote Justice Alito for the majority in the two cases. “The plain terms of RFRA make it perfectly clear that Congress did not discriminate in this way against men and women who wish to run their businesses as for-profit corporations in the manner required by their religious beliefs.”
Alito wrote that the RFRA “applies to regulations that govern the activities of closely held for profit corporations like Conestoga and Hobby Lobby,” noting that the “HHS contraceptive mandate substantially burdens the exercise of religion.”
In a concurring opinion Justice Kennedy wrote: “Among the reasons the United States is so open, so tolerant, and so free is that no person may be restricted or demeaned by government in exercising his or her religion.”
Alito emphasized, however, that the decision is not overarching, but limited only to the contraceptive mandate issue. “Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance-coverage mandate must necessarily fail if it conflicts with an employer's religious beliefs,” he wrote.
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