In what is being called not only a triumph for freedom of religion but also a triumph for the freedom of conscience, the United States Supreme Court ruled 5-4 today in favor of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. The case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby put the two companies at the center of a religious freedom debate, specifically on the issue of providing mandated contraception coverage. The decision means that certain companies can now seek a religious exemption and their employees will have to find other means to fund birth control medications and services. Today’s Supreme Court ruling puts the biggest dent yet in the controversial Obamacare mandate.
The central question posed in the Hobby Lobby case was whether a for-profit private business or corporation has to comply with the Obamacare mandate that states employers must provide no-cost contraception coverage to employees. Previously, religious entities such as churches or other houses of worship fought for and received a waiver on the mandate based on the premise that it violates religious freedom. The Supreme Court ruled today that in fact, the mandate also violates the religious freedom of owners of “closely held” businesses. According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) “closely held” is defined as a business that has “more than 50% of the value of its outstanding stock owned…by 5 or fewer individuals at any time during the last half of the tax year.” Further, a closely held business is “not a personal service corporation.”
The mandate has been seen by many businesses and individuals as heavy-handed and, in this particular case, the argument was that it violates the religious freedom of those who are pro-life. In essence, by mandating that businesses have to provide contraception, Obamacare forces those with religious convictions against abortion or birth control to forego their moral and religious beliefs as they pertain to contraception. By extension, the mandate then says if you are a business owner, such as the owners of Hobby Lobby, you do not have the basic right of freedom of religion or the right to express your personal beliefs. This is a right that all Americans have as is demonstrated by, for example, the right not to say the Pledge of Allegiance or the right to be a conscientious objector and not serve in the United States Armed Forces.
On the other side of the argument are those who claim that businesses who do not provide contraception to employees are denying them basic health care. As such, they see this as discrimination against women who may hold different and yet equal moral, religious or non-religious convictions. Hobby Lobby has been accused by liberals as participating in a “war on women.”
Constitutionalists are dismayed that the Supreme Court vote on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby was 5-4 as opposed to 9-0. Some even claim that liberal justices are making decisions based upon ideology and conservative justices are making their decisions based upon the Constitution.
Conservative Justice Samuel A. Alito wrote the majority opinion and was joined by Justices, Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas and Scalia. Dissenting were liberal Justices Sotomayor, Kagen, Breyer and Ginsburg who wrote the dissenting opinion. According to the court, when it comes to closely held businesses, Health and Human Services (HHS) regulations that impose a “contraceptive mandate” violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Although there is already debate about whether today’s Supreme Court decision in favor of Hobby Lobby Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. will stand, there is no doubt that the court’s decision puts a major dent in the mandated contraception policy of Obamacare.
Both liberals and conservatives alike should, on a constitutional basis, support the Supreme Court decision as it is one that dictates that all Americans have the right to express their strong, personally held beliefs and that business owners cannot have their constitutional freedoms restricted by the government.
Opinion by Alana Marie Burke