You don’t have to agree with Hobby Lobby or share its owners’ opposition to abortion to recognize that the government should not be able to force Americans to set aside their deeply held beliefs simply because they go into business.
Thankfully, the Supreme Court agreed and upheld the right of Americans to live and work according to their convictions in a 5- 4 decision today.
In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the justices ruled the government will not be able to force Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties to provide coverage of four drugs and devices that can end the life of a human embryo.
As Justice Samuel Alito noted in the majority opinion today, there were plenty of other ways for the government to provide the drugs and devices in question to women who wanted them without forcing private family businesses to violate their convictions.
Applying the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act to closely held family businesses, the Court found that the government cannot coerce the Greens’ and Hahns’ businesses to violate their beliefs.
As the Court noted today: “Protecting the free-exercise rights of closely held corporations thus protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them.”
Passed by Congress in 1993 by broad, bipartisan majorities, RFRA protects Americans from substantial burdens on religious freedom unless the government can show it has a compelling government interest and does so in the least restrictive way possible. That’s a high bar and one the Obama administration failed to meet under this mandate.
Today’s decision rejects the administration’s argument that Americans’ religious freedom ends when they open a family business.
Having essentially exempted the health plans of nearly 100 million individuals from this mandate and provided a religious exemption (albeit narrow) to houses of worship, the Obama administration was unable to show a compelling reason for burdening the religious freedom of the Greens’ and Hahns’ businesses.
To be clear, the decision today applies only to the Obamacare rule that was threatening the religious freedom of the Greens’ and Hahns’ family businesses. Other claims for religious exemptions by closely held family businesses from other laws will have to be litigated on a case-by-case basis. RFRA doesn’t provide a blank check for religious believers to do whatever they want in the name of religion and neither does today’s decision.
With today’s ruling, the Greens’ and Hahns’ family businesses will be able to continue offering their employees generous healthcare plans (which cover most forms of contraception) without fear of government penalties. And the women who work for Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood remain free – like all women – to make their own decisions about these four drugs and devices (as well as other birth control) and to purchase or find insurance coverage for them. But the government cannot coerce these family businesses to participate in those decisions in violation of their beliefs.