A federal appeals court in Denver reviewing the case of Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius ruled for-profit corporations have religious liberty, granting Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. a temporary restraining order against the federal contraception mandate.
The Department of Health and Human Services and Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, in implementing Obamacare’s essential benefits, ruled companies offering health care coverage must cover most forms of preventive care without copayment, including all methods of contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Four of the twenty FDA-approved methods can function by preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg. Those are the only methods which Hobby Lobby objects to providing.
Religious Freedom Battle
Though the Obama administration announced a one-year delay in the mandate that employers provide insurance, the essential benefits mandates remain in effect. Beginning in July, Hobby Lobby faced fines of as much as $1.3 million a day for failing to comply, according to Emily Hardman, spokesperson for the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty.
“It was deeply significant that the en banc court recognized that you don’t give up your religious freedom just because you earn a living,” Hardman said. She called the ruling “very encouraging” and “a tremendous victory for religious liberty.”
In its opinion, referring to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case that corporations have free expression rights, the appeals court wrote, “We see no reason the Supreme Court would recognize constitutional protection for a corporation’s political expression but not its religious expression.”
Liberty and For-Profit Corporations
The court held that corporations are persons for the purposes of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but the RFRA requires them to have a sincere belief.
“The standard for RFRA is that the Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion unless there is a compelling interest for the government to do so, and it is done in the least restrictive means possible,” Hardman said.
Matt Bowman, senior legal counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom, said the government argued for a strong distinction between the religious liberty of for-profit and nonprofit corporations.
“The Obama administration has elevated its political concerns higher than its duty to obey the law, which requires respect for religious freedom,” said Bowman. “It would be disastrous public policy for the Obama administration to succeed in establishing that businesses can only care about profit and not about religion or about any other community value. Yet that’s what the government is arguing in this case, in order to steamroll believers with its political agenda.”
Bowman says this is an arbitrary distinction not supported by the Constitution.
“There is no exception in the First Amendment or in RFRA for families who are following their faith when they try to earn a living. The government’s line-drawing against religious freedom is not a bright line, it’s an imaginary line. I think bureaucrats in Washington have no business picking and choosing who the faithful are, what the faith is, and who can practice the faith,” said Bowman. “And that position by the administration is essentially what the courts are rejecting in many of these cases.”
‘Threatening Fundamental Freedoms’
Religious liberty acts as an early warning system for other civil liberties, says Sarah Torre, a research assistant at The Heritage Foundation. “That is why we say religious liberty is our ‘first freedom’.”
Torre said the decision points to an underlying problem with Obamacare generally.
“Obamacare has given unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats the ability to decide what employers are going to provide, what insurance companies must cover, and what individuals have to purchase when it comes to health care insurance,” Torre said. “So they have a one-size-fits-all health care regime, where they can impose these kinds of mandates on Americans regardless of their beliefs.
“Unfortunately,” Torre concluded, “Obamacare is threatening not only religious freedom but also many other fundamental freedoms. It’s high time we put control over these personal health care decisions back in the hands of the American people, where they belong. The first step on that road is obviously to get rid of this particular Obamacare mandate that’s threatening religious freedom. But protecting Americans’ liberties more generally is going to require a full repeal of Obamacare.”