In a momentous decision, the Supreme Court has ruled that closely-held corporations cannot be forced to include coverage for contraceptives in their employer-sponsored health plans. Applying the rationale of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the Court held that the government failed to use the least-restrictive-means in a Health and Human Services regulation mandating contraceptive coverage, infringing the rights of faith-based businesses Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood.
The case is an encouraging early milestone as people of faith seek to preserve religious liberties incompatible with expanding sexual mores. The Hobby Lobby decision affirms that RFRA protections apply to closely held corporations (that is, corporations 50 percent owned by 5 or fewer persons) so faith-based business owners must not leave their most deeply-held religious convictions at the threshold when opening up shop. The Court might have gone further in applying this rationale, but limited the scope of its decision to the facts of the case before it.
Implications of the Hobby Lobby decision for the dozens of additional suits against the HHS mandate are unclear. The Obama administration contends that its “exemption” for religious employers and “accommodation” allowing a narrow band of religious non-profit organizations to opt-out of providing contraception coverage satisfies objections. In deeming that the mandate did not pass the least-restrictive-means standard, the Court references the accommodation, noting:
The Government has failed to satisfy RFRA’s least-restrive-means standard. HHS has not shown that it lacks other means of achieving its desired goal without imposing a substantial burden on the exercise of religion. The Government could… extend the accommodation that HHS has already established for religious nonprofit organizations to non-profit employers with religious objections to the contraceptive mandate.
This seems on its face to be an affirmation of the accommodation process, and perhaps it does hint at where the Court will land. Or perhaps the Court is simply pointing out that HHS is voluntarily willing to accommodate objectors in one instance while accomplishing its interests, so expanding accommodations to closely-held corporations is a viable less-restrictive-means. Such logic doesn’t necessarily affirm the actual terms of the accommodation. We shall see.
Eric Teetsel directs the Manhattan Declaration, a national movement of Christians for life, marriage, and religious freedom.