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Hobby Lobby Case: Can a business owner opt out of federal requirements for religious reasons?

submitted March 20, 2014 by Matthew Ellis   |   comments
<h1>Hobby Lobby Case: Can a business owner opt out of federal requirements for religious reasons?</h1>

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. In Hobby Lobby #1, we asked a few questions based on the summary at Supreme Court blog. In this post, we will look at a few of these questions and their potential impact from a layperson's perspective. 

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

Supporters feel strongly that they should be able to do so without the associated penalty. By being forced to offer plans that include access to comprehensive contraception coverage for their employees, the controlling owners of the corporations feel they are being forced to pay for treatment that violates their religious beliefs. 

David Green, CEO and founder of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.:

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.

[Note: There is considerable evidence that this is not how these treatments work; instead, they work by preventing fertilization. See NPR coverage here and Princeton University here.]


  1. These are legal medical treatments in the United States.

  2. Medical treatments and health care decisions should be made by individuals and their health care professionals. An employer should never be given the opportunity to intervene and determine a patient's medical care based on their own personal beliefs.  

  3. As members of a free society, we contribute resources (taxes) for public use. However, we do not have the right to require that our dollars only be used for those items with which we agree. For instance, the Catholic Church is adamantly opposed to the death penalty; yet Catholics do not require that their public contributions be separated to ensure they are not used to fund executions.

  4. In light of #3, the provision of medical care that affects only the employee seems comparable. In both cases, public or combined monies are possibly used for a purpose that individuals might disagree with. However, the use of these dollars in this way requires no active participation or expression on the part of the dissenting individual. 

“Anybody who pays taxes can find something deeply offensive in what the government does: ‘I’m not paying my taxes because of torture at Guantánamo. I’m not paying my taxes because of drones.’ People can’t pick and choose their taxes, because you couldn’t have a functioning tax system.”

-Robert Post, a First Amendment expert at Yale Law School

Stay tuned for more information after oral arguments on March 25!

Matthew Ellis is the CEO of Episcopal Health Ministries and a member of the 2014 Faith and Reproductive Justice Leadership Institute