The U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision Monday ruled that a “closely held” for-profit business can opt out of Obamacare’s controversial contraception requirement based on religious objections.
The case brought by Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma-based arts and crafts chain with about 13,000 employees, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania cabinet maker, challenged the Affordable Health Care Act requirement that employees provide free contraception coverage, including abortion-inducing drugs.
Hobby Lobby’s argument was based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, which protects the individual beliefs of citizens.
The majority opinion by Justice Samuel Alito dismissed the Department of Health and Human Services argument that the companies cannot sue because they are for-profit corporations and that the owners cannot sue because the regulations apply only to the companies. Alito said that “would leave merchants with a difficult choice: give up the right to seek judicial protection of their religious liberty or forgo the benefits of operating as corporations.”
The opinion said the RFRA’s text “shows that Congress designed the statute to provide very broad protection for religious liberty and did not intend to put merchants to such a choice.”
Alito said “the purpose of extending rights to corporations is to protect the rights of people associated with the corporation, including shareholders, officers, and employees.”
“Protecting the free-exercise rights of closely held corporations thus protects the religious liberty of humans who own and control them.”
The opinion said while the dissent argues RFRA does not cover Conestoga, Hobby Lobby and Mardel, an affiliate company of Hobby Lobby, because they cannot “exercise religion,” the justices “offer no persuasive explanation for this conclusion.”
“The corporate form alone cannot explain it because RFRA indisputable protects nonprofit corporations. And the profit-making objective of the corporations cannot explain it because the court has entertained the free-exercise claims of individuals who were attempting to make a profit as retail merchants.”
The court said that “business practices compelled or limited by the tenets of a religious doctrine fall comfortably within the understanding of the ‘exercise of religion.'”
While the court ruling was not a sweeping First Amendment freedom of religion ruling, it concluded: “HHS’s contraceptive mandate substantially burdens the exercise of religion.”
“It requires the Hahns and Greens to engage in conduct that seriously violates their sincere religious belief that life begins at conception.”
The opinion made clear the priority of protecting religion.
“RFRA’s question is whether the mandate imposes a substantial burden on the objecting parties’ ability to conduct business in accordance with their religious beliefs. … It is not for the court to say that the religious beliefs of the plaintiffs are mistaken or unreasonable.”
Joining Alito were Chief Justice John Roberts, whose determination two years that Obamacare was a tax saved the law, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.
The opinion concluded that if the government is demanding free abortion-inducing drugs for women, it should pay for them.
The two justices appointed by Obama, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, joined in the minority opinion, which argued that “accommodations to religious beliefs or observances, the court has clarified, must not significantly impinge on the interests of third parties.”
It said the decision would deny “legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage.”
The dissent said “logistical and administrative obstacles” for employees deprived of abortifacients required them “to take steps to learn about, and to sign up for, a new [government funded and administered] health benefit.”
The question presented in the case was whether any law, such as a nationwide health-care management system imposed by the government, can be so important that Washington can order people to violate their religious faith, on contradiction to the freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment.
The religious objections to the contraception mandate raised by the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, and the Hahn family, owners of Conestoga Wood, have been raised in nearly 90 other cases.
The Greens and Hahns said their Christian faith prevents them – under any circumstances – from enabling the deaths of unborn babies. Obamacare requires employers to cover abortion-inducing drugs in health-care plans for their employees on request.
The demands align with Obama’s longstanding support for abortion under any circumstances. He even argued, while a state senator in Illinois, against requiring doctors to provide live-saving help to babies who survive abortions.
Government attorneys have claimed they aren’t asking the people as individuals to violate their faith. But the family owners insist their businesses are inseparable from their personal faith.
The issue even drew a key Obamacare supporter into the dispute on the side of the religious families.
Former Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., provided the deciding vote for Obamacare, even though he had objected to the plan to have taxpayers fund abortions.
He gave up his opposition, drawing scorn from pro-lifers as a traitor, when Obama promised to issue an executive order separate from the law that would respect prohibitions on federal funding of abortion and freedom of conscience and religion.
Stupak wrote a commentary published by USA Today to support the Green and Hahn families.
“As a private citizen,” he wrote, “I’m proud to stand with the Green and Hahn families and their corporations, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, in seeking to uphold our most cherished beliefs that we, as American citizens, should not be required to relinquish our conscience and moral convictions in order to implement the Affordable Care Act.”
He said his objection is to the Obamacare mandate that forces businesses and their owners to cover “methods of contraception that may cause the abortion of new embryos: new human beings.”
Stupak said that in the “battle over the ACA’s passage, pro-life Democratic members of Congress negotiated with the president to ensure that the act would not be employed to promote abortion.”
He “received an ironclad commitment that our conscience would remain free and our principles would be honored,” he said.
But the authors of the Obamacare law and subsequent regulations have fought back against the faith-based objections. The administration has granted hundreds of exemptions to various rules and regulations under Obamacare but steadfastly has refused to make an allowance for faith issues.
One of the most pointed cases against the contraception mandate was brought by the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic nuns who run homes for the elderly.
The nuns have argued in court documents their faith prohibits them “from participating in the government’s program to distribute, subsidize, and promote the use of contraceptives, sterilization, or abortion-inducing drugs and devices.”
The government has persistently demanded that the Little Sisters “give up” their position on abortion, a brief filed with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in their case charges.
“The government has fought all the way to the Supreme Court, and continues to fight in this court, to force the Little Sisters to execute and deliver its mandatory contraceptive coverage form. … If the Little Sisters refuse, the government promises to impose severe financial penalties,” the brief notes.
The district court that ordered the Little Sisters to sign a form authorizing a third-party promotion of abortifacients “essentially re-writes the Little Sisters’ religious beliefs for them.”
“Standard moral reasoning underpins the Little Sisters’ refusal to designate, authorize, incentivize, and obligate a third party to do that which the Little Sisters may not do directly,” the brief stated.
“And regardless of what the trial court and the government think the Little Sisters should believe, the undisputed fact is that they do believe their religion forbids them from signing EBSA Form 700. It was not for the district court to disagree with the line drawn by the Little Sisters.”
The Becket Fund has been representing Hobby Lobby, Little Sisters of the Poor, GuideStone, Wheaton College, East Texas Baptist University, Houston Baptist University, Colorado Christian University, the Eternal Word Television Network, Ave Maria University and Belmont Abbey College.
The Alliance Defending Freedom is representing a long list of other plaintiffs.
Hobby Lobby could face $1.3 million in daily fines for refusing to pay for abortion-inducing drugs as Obama demands.
A number of other cases challenge Obamacare on additional allegations of unconstitutionality.
In one, attorneys for Matt Sissel – a small-business owner who wants to pay medical expenses on his own and has financial, philosophical and constitutional objections to being ordered to purchase a health plan he does not need or want – charge the Obamacare bill was unconstitutionally launched in the U.S. Senate and is therefore invalid.
They noted that the Constitution requires all tax bills in Congress to begin in the House of Representatives. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., they said, manipulated the legislation by taking the bill number for an innocuous veterans housing program that had been approved by the House, pasting it on the front of thousands of Obamacare pages and voting on it.
That means, they argued, that the entire law was adopted unconstitutionally and should be canceled, including its $800 billion in taxes.
The argument essentially makes the Constitution a silver bullet to kill Obamacare.
The case, brought by the Pacific Legal Foundation, is based on the Constitution’s Origination Clause.
The eventual decision by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit likely will be advanced to the U.S. Supreme Court.
PLF principal attorney Paul J. Beard II told WND after a recent court hearing that government attorneys claimed the U.S. House did not voice objections at the time of the votes to the fact the Senate had gutted a bill, inserted Obamacare and then approved it.
But Beard said the vote took place was at a time when no one was considering Obamacare as a tax-raising measure, because the Obama administration was arguing that the fees, payments and penalties weren’t taxes.
In fact, it was the U.S. Supreme Court that labeled them as taxes, when the issue was before the court the first time.
Also, the attorneys argued, the Constitution allows the Senate to “amend” House bills, even though it requires tax measures to “originate” in the House. So exactly what do “amend” and “originate” mean?
Beard explained that the authors of the Constitution had different intents when they used different words, so it is unlikely the founders’ intent was the same when they allowed “amending” but not “originating.”
Whatever decision is reached, he told WND, it likely will be submitted to the court again, in a request for a hearing before the full court, and later, to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“It is our goal to get this before the Supreme Court again,” he confirmed.
The first trip to the court was a challenge to Obama under the Commerce Clause. The Supreme Court ruled in 2012 Obamacare is a tax – likely the biggest tax increase ever in America – also was constitutional.