Yesterday the Supreme Court heard arguments in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties case about the companies’ right to manage their businesses according to the religious beliefs of their owners. Breitbart.com has a summary of some of the dialogue that went on in the Court.
Some of the highlights:
Former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement, arguing for the plaintiffs, began, “When a federal government agency compelled employers to provide something as religiously sensitive as contraception, it knew that free exercise and RFRA claims would soon follow.”
He went on to quote RFRA’s language applying its protections to all federal statutes and regulations unless Congress specifically provides otherwise, both those already on the books and those to be enacted in the future. Congress later broadened RFRA to protect “any exercise” of religion, unless the government can show the burden on faith is the least restrictive means to accomplish a truly compelling public interest. This test is called “strict scrutiny” in constitutional law, an extremely demanding standard that few government actions survive.
…Sotomayor also pointed out that organizations have the option of dropping all insurance coverage and paying $2,000 per employee, per year, for violating what is called the ACA’s employer mandate. Clement objected that the Green family—owners of Hobby Lobby—consider it a form of Christian ministry to provide healthcare for their employees. He also said this was a choice for Hobby Lobby of between paying a $475 million penalty for violating the abortion mandate or a $26 million penalty for violating the employer mandate.
…Although it’s certainly not definite who won the case, at least four justices seemed to side with religious objectors over the Obama administration’s mandate, and very likely a fifth with Kennedy. (Even Justice Stephen Breyer said several supportive comments during argument, but it’s probably too much for the plaintiffs to hope they picked up a sixth vote.)
There are other issues regarding which millions of Americans are currently asserting religious objections. Hobby Lobby could include pronouncements on several principles which could tip those issues one way or the other in court.
The decision on the case will not be released until June.
The thing to remember in watching this case is that the case is not about birth control–it is about abortion. Healthcare plans at Hobby Lobby already provide for birth control–at issue is ‘after the fact’ birth control, which simply causes an abortion. The mandate in ObamaCare is the government’s first step toward federally-funded abortion, which is now illegal under the Hyde Amendment. If Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties can be forced to include abortion pills in their healthcare plans, despite the religious beliefs of their owners, the government will be able to limit the religious freedom of all Americans.