Supreme Court to hear Hobby Lobby case

A ruling is expected in June over whether the government can require for-profit employers to provide employees with health insurance that covers contraceptive services that violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.

By Bob Allen 

The Supreme Court agreed Nov. 26 to accept cases challenging mandated contraception coverage in the health care reform law known as Obamacare.

Justices announced they would hear cases with plaintiffs including Hobby Lobby, the Oklahoma-based arts-and-crafts retailer whose owners object to certain forms of birth control based on their Southern Baptist beliefs.

hobbyLobbyHobby Lobby founder David Green, a member of Council Road Baptist Church in Bethany, Okla., and members of his family say emergency contraception that terminates a pregnancy after fertilization occurs runs contrary to the Southern Baptist Convention’s official doctrine affirming the “sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death.”

“This is a major step for the Greens and their family businesses in an important fight for Americans’ religious liberty,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead lawyer for Hobby Lobby. “We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will clarify once and for all that religious freedom in our country should be protected for family business owners like the Greens.”

A White House spokesman said the health care law covers vital preventive care for women, such as cancer screenings and birth control, and that the administration believes the requirement is “lawful and essential to women’s health.”

“As a general matter, our policy is designed to ensure that health care decisions are made between a woman and her doctor,” according to a statement from the White House. “The President believes that no one, including the government or for-profit corporations, should be able to dictate those decisions to women.”

In accepting the Hobby Lobby case, one of more than 100 challenging the Affordable Care Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in March 2010, the high court will settle the legal question of whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law passed 20 years ago to make it harder for the government to burden religious exercise, applies to only persons or to corporations as well. Lower courts have ruled both ways.

Other lawsuits, including one by GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, challenge implementation, claiming that rules set by the Department of Health and Human Services too narrowly define “religious employers,” such as local congregations, that can opt out of the mandate for moral reasons.

“The Supreme Court needs to make it clear that religious freedom is not a battering ram to use against individual rights,” said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

“The question before the court is simple,” said Lynn, an ordained United Church of Christ minister. “Does the owner of a secular corporation have the right to impose his religious views onto his employees? And the answer is equally simple: No.”

Observers expect the Supreme Court to hear oral arguments in March and have a ruling by late June.

Previous stories.

RFRA needed now more than ever

Lawyer says religious liberty at risk

Hobby Lobby appeals to Supreme Court

High court asked to hear Hobby Lobby case

Hobby Lobby wins legal appeal

Hobby Lobby braces for fines

Hobby Lobby must cover contraceptives