[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] 5-4 Monday that closely held for-profit corporations can deny coverage of contraception costs because of their religious beliefs. In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell [SCOTUSblog backgrounders] the court considered whether, under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) [text], a for-profit corporation can opt out of the contraception mandate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act [text] and other applicable laws mandating the coverage of contraceptives. Justice Samuel Alito wrote the opinion for the majority:
Congress, in enacting RFRA, took the position that “the compelling interest test as set forth
in prior Federal court rulings is a workable test for striking sensible balances between religious liberty and competing prior governmental interests.” The wisdom of Congress’s judgment on this matter is not our concern. Our responsibility is to enforce RFRA as written, and under the standard that RFRA prescribes, the [Health and Human Services] contraceptive mandate is unlawful.
Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, along with Chief Justice John Roberts, joined Alito’s opinion, while Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote a concurring opinion noting that the insurance companies or the government could pay for the cost of the contraception coverage. In her dissent Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that she “would confine religious exemptions under that Act to organizations formed ‘for a religious purpose.'” Ginsburg’s dissent was joined in full by Justice Sonia Sotomayor and in part by Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.
The court heard arguments in the case in March after granting certiorari [JURIST reports] in November. The consolidated cases were brought by two companies, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties [corporate websites] which, because of their owners’ religious beliefs, wanted to deny their employees coverage of contraceptives. Reactions to Monday’s decision have been mixed. Louise Melling, deputy legal directer of the American Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website] said [press release] that “[r]eligious freedom is a fundamental right, but that freedom does not include the right to impose beliefs on others. In its ruling today, the Court simply got it wrong.” Barbara Green, one of the founders of Hobby Lobby, said [press release] that “[o]ur family is overjoyed by the Supreme Court’s decision. Today the nation’s highest court has re-affirmed the vital importance of religious liberty as one of our country’s founding principles. The Court’s decision is a victory, not just for our family business, but for all who seek to live out their faith. We are grateful to God and to those who have supported us on this difficult journey.” Monday’s ruling affirmed a decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit and reversed a decision [JURIST reports] by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.