This week, in a landmark victory for religious freedom and freedom of conscience rights, the United States Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation in their challenge to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Abortion Pill Mandate, which required them to provide objectionable insurance coverage to their employees.
The Green and Hahn families, which own Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, respectively, believe that four of the twenty contraceptives required by the HHS mandate could result in abortion, the taking of innocent human life. For these Christian families, providing abortion-inducing drugs would violate their deeply held religious convictions.
The Obama Administration argued that for-profit corporations do not qualify as “persons” under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and thus have no religious freedom protection and are not protected under that law. But the Court repudiated those claims, saying “No known understanding of the term ‘person’ includes some but not all corporations.”
In a broad majority opinion upholding RFRA rights that dissenting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg referred to as a “decision of startling breadth,” the Supreme Court rejected the notion that individuals lose their religious rights by entering into a business. In the decision, the Court held that “[t]he contraceptive mandate, as applied to closely held corporations, violates RFRA.”
FREEDOM OF RELIGION NOT CONFINED TO CHURCH WALLS
President and CEO of Liberty Institute Kelly Shackelford commented, “This is a big win for freedom. What the government was arguing for (that those in a for-profit business had no religious freedom protection) was very dangerous. Today, that argument was soundly rejected, and that is good for America.”
In his concurring opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote:
“In our constitutional tradition, freedom means that all persons have the right to believe or strive to believe in a divine creator and a divine law. For those who choose this course, free exercise is essential in preserving their own dignity and in striving for a self-definition shaped by their religious precepts. Free exercise in this sense implicates more than just freedom of belief.”
Jeff Mateer, General Counsel for Liberty Institute, remarked, “This is a landmark win for the freedom of conscience rights of every American, including business owners, recognizing that they are free to live and work according to their beliefs without the fear of government.”
Mateer added, “The Supreme Court recognized that citizens cannot be forced to choose between violating their faith and being punished by the government for following their faith.”
MANDATE A “SUBSTANTIAL BURDEN” ON RELIGION
The Supreme Court found that the HHS contraceptive mandate “imposes a substantial burden on the exercise of religion[.]” Writing for the court, Justice Samuel Alito said, “We doubt that the Congress that enacted RFRA—or, for that matter, ACA [Affordable Care Act]—would have believed it a tolerable result to put family-run businesses to the choice of violating their sincerely held religious beliefs or making all of their employees lose their existing healthcare plans.”
Justice Alito also wrote that the HHS contraceptive mandate was not the least restrictive way for the government to accomplish their objective, saying “The least-restrictive-means standard [of RFRA] is exceptionally demanding . . . and it is not satisfied here.” (citation omitted)
WE CONTINUE TO FIGHT FOR RELIGIOUS LIBERTY
Though the Supreme Court’s decision is a landmark victory for religious liberty, the battle for religious freedom isn’t over.
Left unresolved by this week’s decision are the claims by religious non-profit ministries, such as Little Sisters of the Poor, other religious ministries, and Christian colleges and universities, many of whom we represent, where the government continues to insist that they violate their beliefs in participating in the provision of objectionable contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs.
Liberty Institute represents several for-profit companies and non-profit ministries who are in various stages of challenging the ObamaCare Abortion Pill Mandate.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
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To keep apprised of developments in the battle over freedom of conscience rights, visit www.libertyinstitute.org
About Liberty Institute
Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.