In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court decided this morning that corporations can hold religious objections that permit them to opt out of the new health law requirement that they cover contraceptives for women.
Incredibly, this decision is the first time that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that profit-seeking businesses can hold religious views under federal law. In recognition of the far-reaching implications that such a decision would likely have, the justices were quick to carve out this opinion from other anti-discrimination laws or otherwise provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice:
Our decision today provides no such shield. The Government has a compelling interest in providing an equal opportunity to participate in the work-force without regard to race, and prohibitions on racial discrimination are precisely tailored to achieve that critical goal.
Also, the decision is limited to contraceptives under the health care law. In this regard Justice Alito wrote:
Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance-coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs …
This decision was reached in what has come to be called the “Hobby Lobby” case, which is short-hand for Burwell v Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. The Hobby Lobby shareholders had challenged the contraceptive coverage requirement under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA) and asserted the corporation’s rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) was violated. That act prohibits the“Government [from] substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.”
Hobby Lobby, with its corporate headquarters in Oklahoma, employs more than 15,000 full-time employees in 41 states. The other company involved with the challenge is Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. located in Pennsylvania. It is owned by a Mennonite family and employs 950 people in making wood cabinets.
Closer to home, this decision is a likely victory for Michigan based Trijicon, which filed a similar lawsuit. Trijicon is a military contractor that filed a 2013 lawsuit claiming the company “and its shareholders have a deeply held religious belief that life begins at conception/fertilization.” That belief coupled with the Supreme Court’s ruling will likely mean no more birth control coverage for the company’s 250 plus employees.
For more information and analysis about this decision, contact Michigan employment attorney Jason Shinn.