“You Snooze, I News”: The Supreme Court “Hobby Lobby” Decision

If you’ve been following the news or the Twitterverse or the land of Facebook recently you’ve probably heard a lot of people talking about the Supreme Court’s “Hobby Lobby” decision, but don’t really know what they’re talking about. That is about to change.

The Background

The Green family, who own a chain of arts-and-crafts stores (“Hobby Lobby”) argued that some “morning after” contraception methods were incompatible with their religious views on abortion and that they should not be forced to cover those methods under the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”).

Source: Twitter

The Verdict
  • The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of the Green family.
  • The majority decision stated very specifically that the government cannot require “closely held, for-profit corporations” to provide insurance coverage for methods of birth control that conflict with the employer’s religious beliefs.
  • Forcing these companies to pay for coverage or face fines of $475 million annually would have been a substantial burden and a violation of their rights protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.
The Majority Decision
  • The majority decision argued that the contraception coverage requirement would have imposed a “substantial burden” on the owner’s religious beliefs, which would violate their protection under the RFRA of 1993.
  • They were very clear that this decision applies only to the issue of contraception and only for “closely held” companies, which means that five or fewer people own over half of the company (in this case, a family that has prioritized running their business in accordance with their religious beliefs for a long time).
  • The court would like to place these businesses in the same category as religious organizations and religiously-affiliated non-profits, which are already exempt; in these cases the company’s insurer will cover the cost without using company premiums.
The Dissenting Decision
  • The four justices in the minority argued that this decision opens the door for more for-profit companies to claim exemptions from regulations for religious reasons.
  • They provide a few examples: “Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations?”
  • The minority claims that the decision “protects the religious rights of employer over those of their workers.”
The Completely Unrelated Comedic Intermission
The Wrap-Up

People that are upset with the decision mainly take issue with it in terms of (1) restricting women’s rights to contraception and (2) the possibility of companies using religious exemption to get out of other regulations.

The counter-arguments are that (1) women will still get access to contraception, it will just be covered by the insurance company instead of their employer, just like is already the case for religious organizations and religiously-affiliated non-profits and (2) the court is very specific about this decision only applying to contraception coverage by closely held, for-profit companies with a legitimate history of operating in accordance with their religious beliefs.

Obviously, it is not a clear cut decision (nine of the smartest constitutional scholars in the country disagreed 5-4), but the decision has been made.

You have snoozed. I have news’d. Go forth and be knowledgeable.

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