Hobby Lobby ruling narrowly tailored

by Sarah Fay Campbell

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling Monday in the suit filed by Hobby Lobby stores against the U.S. Government is narrowly tailored, and should not have far-reaching implications, according to Emory Law School Professor Dr. Mark Goldfeder.

“There is a lot of nuance to it,” Goldfeder said in an interview with Dennis O’Hayer of WABE News. The ruling only applies to “closely held” companies, which include companies with a limited number of stockholders and stock that is not usually publicly traded.

Goldfeder, who is also a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory, said the main concern of people seems to be that the decision is “going to open the door for corporations to start denying other benefits on the grounds of religious beliefs.” People have worried about things such as equal pay for women and benefits for same-sex couples.

“What the court here really said was, no, we are not talking about anything like that … we are simply talking about this particular mandate and this particular clause,” Goldfeder said. “It will not open the door for employers to cloak illegal discrimination behind religious practice. So I think that the court was very specific in narrowing it to alleviate some of these fears.”

Hobby Lobby, which has a store in Newnan, had resisted paying for certain types of contraception through its employee health plan.

Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans must offer free access to 20 forms of contraception. Hobby Lobby only objected to four: Plan B and Ella, two “morning after pills” that are designed to be taken after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy, and two IUDs – Mirena and Paraguard.

The reason for the objection is that these types of birth control can prevent an already fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus, which some believe is tantamount to an abortion.

Hobby Lobby had no objection to the other 16 forms of birth control. One of those is the progestin only birth control pill commonly known as the “mini pill.” The mini pill is also known to prevent implantation.

The Hobby Lobby ruling also included a case regarding Conestoga Wood Specialities Corp. of Pennsylvania, which is owned by Mennonites.

In the ruling, the court said that the federal government can find another way to provide the coverage for the employees of the two companies.

Hobby Lobby sued under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. The act codified a multi-step test that has been used since 1963. Under that, “even a sincerely-held religious belief is not going to automatically” qualify for an exemption to the law, Goldfeder told WABE. Religious beliefs can be infringed by a general law if certain requirements are met. There must be a “compelling government interest” and the law must be the least restrictive way for that compelling government interest to be furthered.

In the case of requiring equal pay for men and women, or those of different races, for instance, there is a compelling government interest.

In the birth control issue, “really, it is a simple question. Is there a less restrictive way to do this?” Goldfeder said. And there was – having the government pay for those types of contraception.

Though Hobby Lobby only objected to certain forms of birth control, other companies, primarily owned by Catholics, have objected to providing any kind of birth control.

The court ruled that three cases involving Catholic business owners must be reconsidered in appeals courts. Federal appeals courts had ruled against the companies in the three cases: Autocam Corp. V. Burwell, Gilardi V. Department of Health and Human Services, and Eden Foods v. Burwell. Sylvia Burwell is the new secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Supreme Court ruling was on the federal government's appeal of a lower court ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby.

Followers of The Newnan Times-Herald’s Facebook page had some strong opinions on the matter.

“Government trying to tell privately owned business owners what to do is wrong,” said Wanda Caldwell. “Way to go, Hobby Lobby, for fighting and winning.”

“For those of you that say government has no place in business, how you liking that 40 hour work week, overtime pay, safe working conditions, Social Security and worker’s comp?” asked Jason Spencer. “Hobby Lobby doesn’t mind buying their cheap goods from a country that is all for abortion,” Spencer said, referring to the fact that many Hobby Lobby products are made in China. “Where are there morals there?”

“Don’t hide behind ‘Christian business’ if you are purchasing from Chinese sweat shops, etc.,” said Kristy Baker.

“If someone wants to use contraception, let them purchase it themselves. No one is stopping them from doing that,” said Jay Adcock.

“I’m pretty sure that constitutional religious freedom doesn’t entail the right to force your beliefs on others in the form of denying legal, doctor-prescribed medical or reproductive health services,” said Eli Nelms. “Business owners should not in any way be involved in the actual health care of their employees, other than offering insurance plans.”

Debbie Lewis brought up the recently revealed information that mutual funds in Hobby Lobby’s 401K plan include stock in companies that manufacture or distribute the same contraceptive drugs they oppose.

“The ruling today covered abortion-causing drugs, not birth control,” said Josh King.

“It’s disheartening to feel like Hobby Lobby believes my copper IUD is an abortifacient,” said Tracey Phillips. “As a breast cancer survivor, it is not safe for me to use any of the hormonal birth control methods deemed ‘appropriate’ by Hobby Lobby.”

“A small victory for the principles of the Enlightenment – private property rights and free exercise of religion trump the government’s attempt to exert its will be co-opting non-governmental institutions,” said Stanley Shannon.

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