WASHINGTON (BP) — The Supreme Court on Monday (June 30) struck down a key mandate of the Affordable Care Act, 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, 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 contraceptive mandate is unlawful,” Alito wrote. In finding in favor of Hobby Lobby, the Court affirmed the ruling of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals and reversed the verdict of the Third Circuit.
Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, shared his thoughts on the ruling. “We are indeed thankful for the recent ruling from the Supreme Court,” he said. “It is an absolute victory for the proponents of religious liberty. I am thankful that both common sense and conscience have seen a victory in a day where such victories are rare. For those who are strongly pro-life, I think this is a great day!”
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The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission used a blue ribbon to promote prayer prior to the Supreme Court decision June 30 in the case involving Hobby Lobby.
Ronnie Floyd, newly elected president of the SBC, added, “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.”
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said the ruling was an “exhilarating victory for religious freedom,” due in large part to the fact Hobby Lobby owners David and Barbara Green, along with their children, had "refused to render to Caesar that which did not belong to him.”
“As a Baptist, I am encouraged that our ancestors' struggle for the First Amendment has been vindicated. This is as close as a Southern Baptist gets to dancing in the streets with joy,” Moore said.
Hobby Lobby filed suit in federal court after the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) 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 non-compliance 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 Third Circuit upheld the denial of the injunctions. The Tenth 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.
“Congress provided protection for people like the Hahns and Greens by employing a familiar legal fiction: It included corporations within RFRA's definition of ‘persons.’ But it is important to keep in mind that the purpose of this fiction is to provide protection for human beings. A corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends. An established body of law specifies the rights and obligations of the people (including shareholders, officers, and employees) who are associated with a corporation in one way or another,” Alito wrote.
“When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people. For example, extending Fourth Amendment protection to corporations protects the privacy interests of employees and others associated with the company. Protecting corporations from government seizure of their property without just compensation protects all those who have a stake in the corporations' financial well-being. And protecting the free-exercise rights of corporations like Hobby Lobby, Conestoga, and Mardel protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control those companies.”
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.
Alito claimed the Greens — and their companies Hobby Lobby and Mardel — conduct business in this manner knowing “they will lose millions in sales annually by doing so.”
Barbara Green, co-founder of Hobby Lobby, issued a statement following the Supreme Court's decision. She said the family was pleased with the decision.
“Today the nation's highest court has re-affirmed the vital importance of religious liberty as one of our country's founding principles,” Green said in her statement. “The Court's decision is a victory, not just for our family business, but for all who seek to live out their faith. We are grateful to God and to those who have supported us on this difficult journey.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg authored the dissenting opinion on the Court. She claimed that, by the ruling of the majority, the Court had “ventured into a minefield” of questions about judging the merits of religious opinions. She also wrote she would have confined “religious exemptions under that Act to organizations formed ‘for a religious purpose,’ ‘engage primarily in carrying out that religious purpose,’ and not ‘engaged … substantially in the exchange of goods or services for money beyond nominal amounts.’”
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 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.
The Greens have repeatedly attributed the success of their companies to the infusion of Christian principles in their business model.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gregory Tomlin is a writer based in Fort Worth, Texas.)