The Supreme Court granted a landmark victory for religious liberty on June 30, 2014, ruling that individuals do not lose their religious freedom when they open a family business. The court ruled 5-4 in favor of David and Barbara Green and their family business, Hobby Lobby ruling they do not have to violate their faith or pay severe fines.
At issue in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (previously Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores), was the Health and Human Service (HHS) Mandate which would have required David and Barbara Green and their family business Hobby Lobby to provide and facilitate four potentially life-terminating drugs and devices in their health insurance plan, against their religious convictions, or pay severe fines. The Greens argued that the mandate substantially burdened their religious beliefs in violation of a federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
In an opinion by Justice Alito, the Court stated: “The plain terms of RFRA make it perfectly clear that Congress did not discriminate . . . against men and women who wish to run their businesses as for-profit corporations in the manner required by their religious beliefs…. Our responsibility is to enforce RFRA as written, and under the standard that RFRA prescribes, the HHS contraceptive mandate is unlawful.”
“Our family is overjoyed by the Supreme Court’s decision,” said Barbara Green, co-founder of Hobby Lobby. “Today the nation’s highest court has re-affirmed the vital importance of religious liberty as one of our country’s founding principles. The Court’s decision is a victory, not just for our family business, but for all who seek to live out their faith. We are grateful to God and to those who have supported us on this difficult journey.”
Frequently Asked Questions:
What did the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case really mean?
The Court held that David and Barbara Green, Hobby Lobby’s owners, and other companies with just a few owners – so-called “closely held companies” – do not lose their religious liberties when they go into business. The ruling does not apply to public companies with thousands of shareholders like General Motors and Microsoft.
Why did Hobby Lobby challenge the federal mandate to provide certain forms of birth prevention methods?
The Hobby Lobby case has always been about one thing only; the Greens’ right to live out their faith in their business without government unduly intruding on their ability to do so. The Court agreed that the government violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by presenting the Greens with an unfair choice: violate their religious beliefs by paying for drugs and devices that could terminate life, or pay huge fines.
Does this mean a corporation can prevent its employees from obtaining contraceptives?
No. Contraceptives are readily available anywhere in the country. This case clarified that a family-owned corporation does not have to pay for something for which the family has a religious objection. Hobby Lobby’s health care plan provides the overwhelming majority of the drugs and devices mandated by the government. The Greens only objected to four that could terminate life. It’s worth noting that both the Supreme Court and lower courts pointed out that the Affordable Care Act exempts thousands of companies from providing contraceptives on other grounds, affecting millions of women. The Court ruled that the government has many ways to make contraceptives available to women without violating family business owners’ religious freedoms.
Does the Court’s ruling take away women’s rights to contraceptives?
Absolutely not. The decision has no effect whatsoever on prior Court decisions protecting women’s rights to contraceptives. Any claim to the contrary is simply untrue.
So Hobby Lobby is not depriving its women employees of health care?
Hobby Lobby is concerned about the health of all of its employees, which is why all of Hobby Lobby’s full-time employees are offered a generous benefits plan that includes coverage for most contraceptives along with an on-site clinic with no co-pay at company headquarters, medical, dental, prescription drugs, long-term disability, and other benefits.
I’ve read that Hobby Lobby offers Viagra and vasectomies to its male employees, but won’t offer women contraceptives.
Hobby Lobby does pay for most contraceptives under its plan – all but four of those required by the federal mandate. The Greens only object to those that can terminate life. Hobby Lobby’s health plan does not provide or pay for any medication for the treatment of erectile dysfunction. Hobby Lobby’s health plan does provide and pay for sterilization procedures for both covered male and female employees at 100% in-network.
Couldn’t Hobby Lobby have just dropped its health care plan and paid a fine?
The Court recognized that forcing the company to drop its plan would have also violated the Greens’ religious beliefs, because generous treatment of employees is very much part of the Greens’ commitment to live out their faith in their business. In any event, it’s strange that anyone would argue that Hobby Lobby’s employees would be better off by losing their generous health care benefits, which already cover the overwhelming majority of drugs and devices mandated by the Affordable Care Act.
Why should a large corporation like Hobby Lobby be able to claim religious rights?
Hobby Lobby employs more than 30,000 people and has stores nationwide, but it is owned entirely by members of a single family who share the same deep religious conviction. In such a case, as the Supreme Court put it, “protecting the free-exercise rights of closely held corporations… protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them.”
The Court also noted approvingly that like many businesses today, the Greens run Hobby Lobby not just to make a profit, but with a “corporate conscience:” they seek to live their faith in every aspect of their business, including generous pay, benefits and work-life balance for employees, as well as extensive philanthropy helping those in need.
What about the fears that corporate owners wanted to deprive their employees of transfusions or any health care at all based on their religious beliefs?
The Court pointed out that no company has ever sought an exemption from any life-preserving care in the more than two decades since the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed, and the Court strictly limited its ruling to the contraceptive mandate.
Isn’t Hobby Lobby imposing its religious views on its employees, as some argue?
Not at all. The Greens and Hobby Lobby support the individual liberties of all their employees. The company has never imposed its views on employees or made religion a factor in their employment. The Greens were simply objecting to providing four products that violated their beliefs. Employees are free to obtain these products on their own.
The truth is – as the Supreme Court has now officially recognized – that the government was attempting to impose on the religious freedoms of the Greens and Hobby Lobby. No one should ever lose sight of that simple fact.
Can’t Hobby Lobby and other companies take advantage of this ruling to discriminate against other faiths, views or lifestyles?
The Green family and Hobby Lobby have always gone out of their way to respect the diverse beliefs and views of all their employees and customers and do not discriminate. The Court was emphatic: the ruling did not in any way provide a license to discriminate.
What about reports that Hobby Lobby has discriminated against women or LGBT employees?
They are simply not true. The Greens and Hobby Lobby obey the law, accommodate the diverse beliefs and views of their employees and customers, and live out their faith by treating everyone well.
How about the company’s dealings with China a country that engages in state-forced abortions?
Hobby Lobby’s activities in China and around the world are guided by the same commitment to Biblical principles as all of its operations. The company does not deal directly with the Chinese government and abhors its abortion policies. It was not the Chinese government, but the American government that tried to force Hobby Lobby to provide coverage for potentially life-terminating drugs and devices. Hobby Lobby sources products from around the globe, not just China, primarily working with small, entrepreneurial businesses and always observing fair labor practices.
Does Hobby Lobby make investments through its employee 401(k) plans in companies that make the very contraceptives it refused to pay for? Isn’t that hypocritical as well?
Hobby Lobby does not invest in pharmaceutical companies. Hobby Lobby’s employees are free to invest their 401(k) retirement funds in a variety of ways, including purchasing shares of broadly diversified mutual funds managed by independent investment firms unaffiliated with Hobby Lobby. This is a very different situation from the government mandate, which required Hobby Lobby to directly pay for potentially life-terminating drugs and devices. The situations underscore the challenges of living out one’s faith in a complex society.
Some are arguing that four drugs and devices Hobby Lobby objected to don’t really terminate life. Is that true?
The Food and Drug Administration says that two types of IUDs and two emergency contraceptives (Plan B and ella) can prevent an embryo from implanting in the uterus—in other words, they can terminate a life at its earliest stages.