Religious freedom advocates are taking a victory lap today after Monday’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby. The Christian family who owns the national craft store chain does not have to set aside its religious beliefs to provide government-mandated contraceptives just because they own a for-profit business, the court ruled.
“The court’s decision is a victory, not just for our family business, but for all who seek to live out their faith,” said Barbara Green, co-founder of Hobby Lobby. “We are grateful to God and to those who have supported us on this difficult journey.” The company’s insurance plan provides 16 of the 20 Obamacare-mandated contraceptive choices to employees, but the Greens object to providing certain abortifacient drugs such as Plan B and Ella. Though Hobby Lobby’s opponents tried to paint the issue as a battle over abortion and reproductive rights, the Supreme Court recognized religious liberty as the core issue in the case. It used the guidelines of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act to make the ruling.
“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,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion. The ruling applied to Hobby Lobby and to Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania cabinet company that also objected to the law.
“We wholeheartedly affirm what the Supreme Court made clear today—that Americans don’t have to surrender their freedom when they open a family business,” said Anthony Hahn, president and CEO of Conestoga Wood. “As I said at the beginning of this lawsuit, this effort wasn’t just for Conestoga. We took this stand for others as well. The administration has gone too far in disrespecting the freedom of Americans to live out their convictions.”
The ruling did not declare the contraceptive mandate unconstitutional, but rather said the government needs to find a less restrictive means to enforce it. Hobby Lobby would have faced fines of $1.3 million per day for not paying for the objectionable drugs. The decision was a strict interpretation of RFRA, which established the “least restrictive means” test for when the government has a compelling interest that conflicts with religious liberty.
Some critics of the decision say Congress should revise RFRA to limit its protection to private individuals. In an editorial posted Monday evening, The Washington Post called on lawmakers to do just that: “If this is the sort of balancing that the Supreme Court will conduct, Congress should change the law. They should not only guarantee contraception coverage but also repair the federal government’s ability to provide for wholly legitimate common goods such as public health and marketplace regulation.”
But Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, one of RFRA’s original authors, wrote in USA Today that RFRA is needed now more than ever.
“In the 20 years since RFRA became law, some have asked whether RFRA is still needed. Is religious freedom really at risk in America? This cases shows that it is,” Hatch wrote. “The notion underlying the Obama administration’s mandate that religious freedom belongs only to some, and, even then, only in private, defies our nation’s traditions, our laws and our Constitution.”