Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores - Opinion Announcement - June 30, 2014 (Part 2)

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores

Media for Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 30, 2014 (Part 1) in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 25, 2014 in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 30, 2014 (Part 2) in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores

Under the Affordable Care Act, employers with health plans must provide women with access to contraceptives at no cost to the insured employee.

The Court holds today that commercial enterprises employing records of diverse faiths can opt-out of contraceptive coverage, if contraceptive use is incompatible with the employer's religious beliefs.

When an employer's religious practice detrimentally affects others however, the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause does not require accommodation to that practice, because precedent to that effect is well-established.

The Court does not rest its decision on the Free Exercise Clause as Justice Alito announced, but solely on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act or RFRA.Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan and I find in that act no design to permit the opt-outs in question.

RFRA targeted this Court's decision in a particular case one holding that native Americans could be denied unemployment benefits because they had ingested peyote act as an essential part of a religious ceremony.

Congress sought to override that decision and to restore by statute the respect for religious exercise as it existed before the sacramental peyote decision was rendered, and nothing more.

Reading the act expansively as the Court does, raises a host of me-too-questions.

Can an employer in business for profit opt-out of coverage for blood transfusions, vaccinations, anti-depressants, so as medications derived from pigs based on the employer's sincerely held religious beliefs opposing those medical practices.

What if the employer whose religious faith teaches that it is sinful to employ a single woman without her father's consent or a married woman without her husband's consent?Can those employers opt-out of Title VII's ban on gender discrimination in employment.

Those examples by the way are not hypothetical.

A wise legal scholar famously said of the First Amendment's Free Speech Clause, your right to swing your arms ends just where the other person's nose begins.

If the senators believe the same is true of the Free Exercise Clause and that Congress meant RFRA to be interpreted in line with that principle.

The genesis of the contraceptive coverage regulations should have enlightened the Court's decision.

The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the nation, this court appreciated over two decades ago, has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.

Congress acted on that understanding when it called for coverage of preventive care responsive to women's needs as part of the Affordable Care Act and nationwide insurance program intended to be comprehensive.

Carrying out Congress' direction, the Department of Heath and Human Services promulgated regulations requiring group health plans to cover without cost sharing all contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The scientific studies informing the HHS regulations demonstrate compellingly the benefits to public health and to women's well-being attending improved contraceptive access.

Notably, the Court assumes that contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act does further compelling interest.

The Courts' reasoning however subordinates those interests nor is a subordination limited to the four contraceptive's Hobby Lobby and Conestoga object to.

And to our argument, counsel for Hobby Lobby forthrightly acknowledged that his argument would apply just as well if an employer's religion ruled out use of every one of the 20 contraceptives the FDA has approved.

As a threshold issue, the parties dispute rather RFRA which speaks of a person's exercise of religion even applies to for profit corporations for they are not flesh and blood persons, they are artificial entities created by law.

True or not, the First Amendment's Free Exercise protections and RFRA's safeguards shelter not only natural persons, they shield as well churches and other non-profit religion-based organizations.

Yes, this Court's decisions have accorded special soliciting to religious institutions, but until today, no similar solicitude has ever been extended to for-profit commercial entities.

The reason why it's not obscure, religious organizations exists to foster the interest of persons subscribing to the same religious faith, not so for profit corporations.Workers who sustain the operations of for-profit corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community.

Indeed by law, no religion-based criterion can restrict the workforce of for-profit corporations.

The difference between a community of believers in the same religion, and a business embracing persons of diverse beliefs is slighted in today's decision.

Justice Sotomayor and I would hold that for-profit corporations should be equated -- should not be equated to non-profits existing to serve a religious community and replace them outside RFRA's domain.

Justices Breyer and Kagan have not endorsed the Court's reasoning on this point.

They simply would not decide the threshold question whether for-profit corporations or their owners can bring RFRA claims.All four of us however, agree in unison that RFRA gives Hobby Lobby and Conestoga no right to opt-out of contraceptive coverage.

The Court objects the contraceptive coverage requirement on the ground that it fails to meet RFRA's least restrictive means test, but the Government chose that there is no less restrictive equally effective means that would both satisfy the challenges religious objections and ensure that women employees receive at no cost to them.