Court rules for religious freedom
|By Mark A. Kellner|
The 5-4 ruling found that the employee health plans of for- profit companies do not have to cover all forms of federally approved contraception, mandated under the Affordable Care Act, if company owners have religious objections.
The justices said the ruling applies only to birth control and does not mean religion could be used to justify illegal discrimination against employees or to opt out of covering blood transfusions or vaccinations that might conflict with an owner's religious beliefs.
The case pitted the Obama administration against the faith-based convictions of the owners of two for-profit businesses:
At the heart of both cases is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed by a nearly unanimous
"It's been a long journey, but an important one for our family and for those who wish to be guided in all areas of their life - including their businesses - by faith and conscience," Green said.
The government had appealed a
The court's ruling will also impact around 48 other lawsuits filed by for-profit corporations against the government over the requirement that their employee health plans cover contraception. The plaintiffs all claim that providing artificial birth control to their employees violates the owners' religious beliefs.
Some owners, like the Green family, specifically object to providing drugs under the government's plan that they believe induce abortion, including the "morning after" pill, called Plan B, and Ella, described as a "week after" pill.
Also watching the outcome of the cases are religious-affiliated nonprofit organizations, such as schools, hospitals and charities. The government has been sued by 51 religious nonprofits over the contraception mandate. A total of 25 injunctions against the HHS mandate have been granted to nonprofit organizations so far, with five injunctions denied, according to the
On the for-profit side, Becket reports, 40 injunctions have been granted and six denied.
"There are quite a few more shoes to drop," said
Justices' opposing views
Alito said the
If that system is available in the nonprofit sphere, Alito wrote, it should be available to employees of for-profit firms, and "enforcement of the HHS contraceptive mandate against the objecting parties in these cases is unlawful."
"Until this litigation, no decision of this court recognized a for-profit corporation's qualification for a religious exemption," she wrote. "The absence of such precedent is just what one would expect, for the exercise of religion is characteristic of natural persons, not artificial legal entities."
Ginsburg predicted other litigation from companies that seek to use religious views as a shield against government rules.
"The court's expansive notion of corporate personhood - combined with its other errors in construing (the religious freedom act) - invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faith," she wrote.
Reaction to ruling
Within minutes of the decision, voices on both sides of the issue were quick to express happiness or disappointment at the result.
"This is a major victory for religious liberty and Christian conscience. It is not only a victory for
"We're behind the ACA in general," said the Most Rev.
"The potential effects of this decision are absolutely chilling, setting a precedent that is sure to reverberate far beyond the issue of contraceptive coverage," said
Most working women will probably see no impact from the ruling, corporate health benefits consultants told The Associated Press. Publicly traded companies are unlikely to drag religion into their employee benefit plans, said
"Most employers view health insurance as a tool to attract and retain employees," said Holloway. "Women employees want access to contraceptive coverage, and most employers don't have a problem providing that coverage. It is typically not a high-cost item."
Looking forward, two legal scholars said that while the for- profit business cases that objected to contraceptive provisions in the ACA "should be controlled" by Monday's ruling, the outlook for some other nonprofit challengers may be less clear.
The court "found a win-win solution, and I would be surprised if they jeopardize that solution by giving broad (certification) relief to the nonprofits," he said.
Both Laycock and Tuttle agree that the act stands taller today after the high court's decision. "The (Supreme) Court has taken RFRA quite seriously now," Laycock noted.
"The court certainly had an opportunity to give a narrow reading to RFRA, and it didn't do that," Tuttle said. "When faced with the choice, it gave a broader (reading)."
"The notion that religious freedom belongs only to some, and even then only in private, defies our nation's traditions, our laws, and our Constitution," he said. "And as the
Tuttle added that state courts are likely to take a cue from the
"I would expect to see some interesting implications of this in state law claims applying state RFRAs," he said.
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