April 11, 2015 / 2014 / March / Background Information on the Hobby Lobby Case

Background Information on the Hobby Lobby Case

submitted March 19, 2014 by Matthew Ellis   |   comments

As a member of the Faith and Reproductive Justice Leadership Institute for 2014, I have pledged to raise the voice of our faith community on issues of reproductive justice. This post is intended to fairly summarize background information on the Hobby Lobby case from my perspective. 

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby on March 25, 2014. The Supreme Court blog summarizes the issue here:

Issue: Whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000bb et seq., which provides that the government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless that burden is the least restrictive means to further a compelling governmental interest, allows a for-profit corporation to deny its employees the health coverage of contraceptives to which the employees are otherwise entitled by federal law, based on the religious objections of the corporation’s owners.

It's clear that for supporters on either side of the argument, this is much more than a simple interpretation of whether or not the owners of Hobby Lobby can exclude contraception coverage from being included in their health plans provided to employees based on a religious objection. Each side seems to see this as the first step on a very slippery slope:

Hobby Lobby and its supporters: David Green, the CEO and founder of Hobby Lobby, Inc., stated the following in an op-ed published by the USA Today on September 12, 2012: 

A new government health care mandate says that our family business must provide what I believe are abortion-causing drugs as part of our health insurance. Being Christians, we don't pay for drugs that might cause abortions. Which means that we don't cover emergency contraception, the morning-after pill or the week-after pill. We believe doing so might end a life after the moment of conception, something that is contrary to our most important beliefs.

Opponents: Denying employees access to medically accepted health care because of religious objections violates the religious liberty of the employees. In addition, other business owners could claim religious liberty issues to pick and choose which laws they want to obey based on their religious convictions, whether those convictions are genuine or simply financially beneficial. 

Questions to Consider:

  1. Can a business owner opt out of federal law requirements by claiming a substantial burden on their exercise of religion? 

  2. Does the government have a compelling interest to mandate this contraception coverage? If yes, is that burden the least restrictive means to further this interest?

  3. Are employees otherwise entitled to health care coverage of contraceptives by federal law? [Yes, according to the ACA]

  4. Does the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) allow a corporation to deny its employees health coverage of specific contraceptives based on the religious objectives of the corporation's owners?

This is a very emotional case with passionate advocates on both sides. In the following posts, I will examine these questions from a lay perspective, not a legal one. The objective of these posts is not to predict the Supreme Court decision or to anticipate the oral arguments; instead, my goal is to encourage you to become more informed about this case and its potential impact. We will also examine The Episcopal Church's position on the issues relevant to this case. 

Further reading from the Kaiser Family Foundation:

Can't get enough health care policy? We've got you covered: