The Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision was handed down today after much speculation, with the highest court in the land ruling five to four in favor of the company’s claim.
Like many issues that wend their ways up to the Supreme Court, the Hobby Lobby case was extremely divisive across partisan lines as the decision was heavily anticipated by both abortion rights supporters and abortion opponents.
At the heart of the case seemed to be a fundamental lack of understanding between the contraceptives cited in the Hobby Lobby case versus abortions, as well as the difference between a “mandate” and a “tax break.”
Opponents of Hobby Lobby’s position argued that employers should not be able to impose their religious beliefs on employees via the decisions made about healthcare coverage. Supporters of the craft store’s case felt that offering a tax break to companies for covering employees with Affordable Health Care Act compliant plans was a violation of those groups “religious freedom.”
In the five to four ruling, Justice Samuel Alito referenced a 1993 federal law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA.)
“Under RFRA, a Government action that imposes a substantial burden on religious exercise must serve a compelling government interest, and we assume that the HHS regulations satisfy this requirement. But in order for the HHS mandate to be sustained, it must also constitute the least restrictive means of serving that interest, and the mandate plainly fails that test. There are other ways in which Congress or HHS could equally ensure that every woman has cost-free access to the particular contraceptives at issue here and, indeed, to all FDA-approved contraceptives.”
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that the Hobby Lobby decision was of “startling breadth,” adding that it allows companies to “opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
“The Court levels a criticism that is as wrongheaded as can be. In no way does the dissent ‘tell the plaintiffs that their beliefs are flawed’… Right or wrong in this domain is a judgment no Member of this Court, or any civil court, is authorized or equipped to make. What the Court must decide is not ‘the plausibility of a religious claim…’ but whether accommodating that claim risks depriving others of rights accorded them by the laws of the United States.”
Ginsburg said of the cases involving both Hobby Lobby and Conestoga, a Pennsylvania-based company, that the ruling could have “untoward effects,” and noted that while the “court attempts to cabin its language to closely held corporations, its logic extends to corporations of any size, public or private.”