Yesterday, the Supreme Court handed down its much-anticipated decision on Christian craft chain Hobby Lobby’s challenge to the Affordable Care Act. In a narrow 5-4 verdict, the nation’s highest court ruled that closely-held companies, such as Hobby Lobby, may apply for exemptions to federally mandated contraception coverage based on the religious objections of the owners. It is a vicious blow to a beleaguered Obama Administration’s crowning achievement and a heartening victory for conservatives alarmed by perceived threats to religious liberty.

 

Hobby Lobby is a for-profit, $3.3 billion nationwide chain of craft stores owned by the Green family, evangelical Christians who consider four of the twenty contraception medications covered by the ACA to be “abortifacients,” or medications that catalyze and cause abortions. Registering religious objections to ACA-mandated contraception coverage under the Religious Freedoms Restoration Act of 1993, the Green Family took the Obama Administration to court over the issue. The case soon wound its way up the ranks of the legal system, tipping the scales for a dramatic showdown on the floor of the Supreme Court in March.

 

The Obama Administration challenged the Green family’s religious objections on a few key points. Counsel for the Administration pointed out that the contraceptives in question were not considered abortifacients by the FDA, and argued that the ACA exemptions for religious institutions did not apply to the for-profit, nominally secular Hobby Lobby. Sustaining the Green family’s objections on religious grounds would subjugate the heathcare coverage of thousands of employees to the personal beliefs of the owners, which “jeopardizes the health” of Hobby Lobby’s female workers. On a broader level, such a ruling would open the gates to a possible torrent of lawsuits claiming “religious” objections to different facets of the healthcare law, undermining the law’s cohesion and further endangering those the ACA was created to protect.

 

In a decision sharply divided along ideological lines, the Supreme Court disagreed with the Administration’s case. The majority opinion, penned by Justice Samuel Alito, argued that the contraception mandate imposed a substantial burden on the religious liberties of the Green family. Alito noted that the Administration’s prior exemptions to nonprofit religious corporations demonstrated that the ACA could adjust to accommodate religious objections and protect religious liberties.

 

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg helmed the liberal dissent, lamenting the ruling’s precedent and warning of possible challenges by similar companies to a wide array of existing law, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Justice Anthony Kennedy, again the swing vote in the decision, wrote a separate rebuttal to Ginsburg’s assertions, denying that the Hobby Lobby decision had the tremendous range Ginsburg accorded it.

 

The ramifications of this undeniably important decision remain to be seen. The shadows of the Citizens United decision lap the edges of the Court’s reasoning, further blurring the lines between the individual and the corporation by allowing the religious freedoms of the owner to be transposed upon a legally separate entity. Indeed, the Obama Administration voiced this very concern early in oral arguments, but quickly abandoned it when even the Court’s liberal justices seemed unconvinced.

 

The Administration would have done well to press the point. In the end, the blow to the separation of corporation and individual may prove to be the lasting legacy of Hobby Lobby’s Supreme Court saga.

 

What do you think of the Supreme Court decision in favor of Hobby Lobby? Do you think a corporation has the right to deny workers access to a medical treatment based on religious ideologies? Let’s talk here, or find me on Twitter @aa_murph