Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores

PETITIONER: Sylvia Burwell, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al.
RESPONDENT: Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.
LOCATION: Hobby Lobby Stores Inc.

DOCKET NO.: 13-354
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)

CITATION: 573 US (2014)
GRANTED: Nov 26, 2013
ARGUED: Mar 25, 2014
DECIDED: Jun 30, 2014

Facts of the case

The Green family owns and operates Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., a national arts and crafts chain with over 500 stores and over 13,000 employees. The Green family has organized the business around the principles of the Christian faith and has explicitly expressed the desire to run the company according to Biblical precepts, one of which is the belief that the use of contraception is immoral. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), employment-based group health care plans must provide certain types of preventative care, such as FDA-approved contraceptive methods. While there are exemptions available for religious employers and non-profit religious institutions, there are no exemptions available for for-profit institutions such as Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

On September 12, 2012, the Greens, as representatives of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., sued Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, and challenged the contraception requirement. The plaintiffs argued that the requirement that the employment-based group health care plan cover contraception violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA). The plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction to prevent the enforcement of tax penalties, which the district court denied and a two-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court also denied relief, and the plaintiffs filed for an en banc hearing of the Court of Appeals. The en banc panel of the Court of Appeals reversed and held that corporations were "persons" for the purposes of RFRA and had protected rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.


Does the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 allow a for-profit company to deny its employees health coverage of contraception to which the employees would otherwise be entitled based on the religious objections of the company's owners?

Media for Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 30, 2014 (Part 2) 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 1) in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores

The second opinion addresses two cases, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. No.13-354 and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation v. Burwell No. 13-356.

The first decision that I just summarized involved freedom of speech and freedom of association and the opinion that I will now summarize involves freedom of religion.

But it is not about the First Amendment, it involves the interpretation of a statute, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act or RFRA.

It addresses a case from the Third Circuit, the Conestoga Case and a similar case from the Tenth Circuit, the Hobby Lobby Case.

Both cases concern families who own and operate businesses that are organized as closely held corporations.

And in both cases, the family members and the businesses claim that the Federal Government has violated the religious liberty that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects.

The Third Circuit case involves Norman and Elizabeth Hahn and their three sons.

The Hahns are devout Mennonites.

Fifty years ago, Norman Hahn started a woodworking business out of his garage and since then, this company has grown and now has 950 employees.

But this company called Conestoga Wood Specialties remains closely held.

The Hahns have retained sole ownership and control.

The Tenth Circuit case involves David and Barbara Green and their three children.

They are devout Christians.

Forty-five years ago, David Green started an arts and crafts store that has grown into a nationwide chain called Hobby Lobby.

One of David’s sons also started and affiliated business, Mardel, which operates 35 Christian bookstores.

These two businesses have expanded over the years.

There are now -- there are now 500 Hobby Lobby stores, but the company remains closely held and the Greens retained exclusive ownership and control over that company.

The same is true of Mardel.

Both the Hahns and the Greens believe that they have a religious obligation to run their businesses in accordance with the tenets of their faith.

They also believe that life begins at conception and that they must not facilitate the destruction of an embryo and there is no dispute that their beliefs are sincere.

That is reflected in their company’s mission and value statements which make it clear that in seeking to make a reasonable profit, they must do so in a way that reflects their Christian heritage.

In accordance with their religious beliefs, the Hahns and the Greens provide generous group health insurance plans for their employees, but they object to offering coverage for four methods of contraception that may operate after conception.

New government regulations however, require them to do just that.

The Department of Health and Human Services has issued regulations that generally require larger employees to offer group health insurance that provides their employees with cost-free coverage for all 20 FDA approved contraceptives including the four to which the Hahns and the Greens object.

Now, many employees -- many employers I should say, are exempt from this mandate.

Employers with fewer than 50 employees do not have to provide group health insurance at all.

A contraceptive mandate does not apply to the tens of millions of employees who were covered by so called grandfathered plans.

That is plans that have not been changed since the enactment of the Affordable Care Act.

Religious employers such as churches are exempt and HHS has crafted an accommodation that effectively exempts non-profit religious organizations that attests to having religious objections to the contraceptive mandate.

Under this accommodation, the employers’ insurer or third party administrator is responsible for providing the employees with contraceptive coverage without imposing any cost on the employer or the employee.