Daily Dispatches
Pro-life demonstrators celebrate the <em>Hobby Lobby</em> ruling.
Photo by Allie Hulcher
Pro-life demonstrators celebrate the Hobby Lobby ruling.

After Hobby Lobby: What business owners need to know

Religious Liberty

Since Monday’s Supreme Court ruling on Hobby Lobby’s objection to the contraceptive mandate, many religious business owners have wondered what they should do next. On Tuesday, the Court issued orders in six other similar cases extending the religious freedom protections to companies that object to all of the forms of birth control mandated by Obamacare. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, the other company involved in the suit, only objected to four potentially abortifacient contraceptives.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday left in place lower court rulings favorable to three Catholic-owned businesses. They’re among the roughly 50 lawsuits from for-profit corporations that object to the Obamacare mandate. Also, the justices ordered lower courts that ruled in favor of the Obama administration to reconsider those decisions in light of Hobby Lobby.

“It’s good news for religious freedom across the board,” said Kevin Theriot, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, which helped represent Conestoga Wood Specialties. Theriot said the Hobby Lobby ruling gives for-profit business owners the legal standing to push back against government fines or insurance policy requirements.

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“If they have a religious conviction not to facilitate that coverage or to provide that coverage for their employees in their insurance plan, I think it’s very clear that they don’t have to now,” Theriot told WORLD News Group. “The first thing that they need to do is make sure that they’re not bullied by their insurance company into covering those things. Insurance companies have lawyers, too, so they should know of the existence of this” court decision. 

Though Monday’s decision applied only to for-profit businesses, the court has also shown initial support for nonprofit groups who object to the mandate. On Monday, it issued an injunction protecting Wheaton College from fines it would have incurred for not providing contraceptive coverage while it awaits the final results of its lawsuit against the government.

“The next wave of these cases is on behalf of non-profit organizations like religious schools,” Theriot said. The Obama administration has granted an exception to the mandate for churches and some religious organizations, but many remain unprotected.

Outside the world of Obamacare, religious business owners also wonder how the Hobby Lobby case will influence other business-related issues of conscience, such as florists and photographers’ objections to serving at same-sex weddings. Theriot said the Hobby Lobby decision set a strong precedent in favor of religious liberty for all business owners.

The issue in most religious freedom cases is whether the government is placing a substantial burden on the exercise of religion. In the past, courts had the power to judge the depth of someone’s religious conviction, but with the Hobby Lobby decision, the Supreme Court changed the rules. 

“The court said, no, that’s not how you analyze it. You get to decide, as the business owner, what your religious convictions are and whether they are burdened,” Theriot said. “Whether or not that burden is substantial goes to how much pressure the government is putting upon you to change that burden. … That is a huge benefit to people who are exercising their religious beliefs in the business world. All I’ve got to show is you’re putting a lot of pressure on me to violate my religious beliefs.”

Listen to Nick Eicher’s full interview with Kevin Theriot on The World and Everything in It:

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