U.S. Supreme Court to consider religious objections to Obamacare

‘We see no reason the Supreme Court would recognize constitutional protection for a corporation’s political expression but not its religious expression’
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WASHINGTON – With two conflicting lower court decisions in disputes over the Affordable Care Act (ACA), known as Obamacare, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider two cases: Hobby Lobby, Inc., the Oklahoma City-based crafts chain with 13,000 full-time employees and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., a Pennsylvania wood cabinet manufacturing company that employs 950 people.

Both cases challenged provisions of the law requiring that health insurance offered to employees include contraception and aborifactants, such as the morning after pill.

The basic question to the court is whether religious freedom applies to secular, for-profit corporations based on the religious beliefs of the owners.

The case brought by Hobby Lobby, owned by David Green, is said to be run on Christian principles, including being closed on Sundays.

A divided full panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals found in favor of Hobby Lobby, citing it would be a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to force the company to comply with the ACA’s contraceptive mandate.

The RFRA prohibits the government from imposing a “substantial burden” on a person’s freedom to exercise their religion unless there is a “compelling governmental interest.”

The court relied on its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, which stated corporations were entitled to the rights of political speech as are individuals.

In his opinion for the majority, Judge Timothy Tymkovich wrote, “We see no reason the Supreme Court would recognize constitutional protection for a corporation’s political expression but not its religious expression.”

In the case brought by Conestoga, owned by a Mennonite family, a divided panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the company must comply with the contraceptive mandate, stating there was a complete absence of case law to support the argument corporations are guaranteed religious freedom rights.

In his opinion, Judge Robert Cowan wrote, “Even if we were to disregard the lack of historical recognition of the right, we simply cannot understand how a for-profit, secular corporation — apart from its owners — can exercise religion.”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney stated, “We believe this requirement is lawful and essential to women’s health and are confident the Supreme Court will agree.

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

Consolidated oral arguments for both cases will likely be heard in March with a decision expected as early as July.  

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