Diocese issues statement regarding Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby case

By Patricia Zapor

Catholic News Service

6/30/2014

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Pro-life demonstrators celebrate June 30 outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington as its decision in the Hobby Lobby case is announced. The high court ruled that owners of closely held corporations can object on religious grounds to being forced by the government to provide coverage of contraceptives for their employees. (CNS photo / Jonathan Ernst)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — In a narrowly tailored 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court June 30 said closely held companies may be exempted from a government requirement to include contraceptives in employee health insurance coverage under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The court said that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods, the two family-run companies that objected to the government mandate that employees be covered for a range of contraceptives, including drugs considered to be abortifacients, are protected from the requirement of the Affordable Care Act. The opinion essentially held that for-profit companies may hold protected religious views. But the court also said that government requirements do not necessarily lose if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs.

While Monday’s decision applied only to the rights of closely-held corporations and their right to religious liberty in the context of contraceptives and related services, Diocese of Fort Worth officials said in a statement that they are “hopeful that future court decisions will enable Catholic organizations such as schools and charities to prevail in their objection to a ‘so-called accommodation.’”

The federal government’s accommodations purportedly remove the requirement to provide contraceptives and related services through a religious organization’s health plan by assigning the responsibility to its insurance company or some other party.

“Today's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court upholds religious liberty as a basic right that is not abdicated when people operate a family business,” said Bishop Michael Olson in the statement. “While the influence of today's decision upon the current standing of the litigation involving Catholic Charities of Fort Worth and the Diocese of Fort Worth is yet to be determined, I join Catholics and men and women of all faiths in applauding the decision as a step in the right direction for the religious liberty of all people.

“Let us work ever harder to promote a society that respects both the basic human right of religious liberty as well as the right to basic healthcare for the sake of human dignity,” the bishop added.

The ruling is not a slam-dunk for all entities that oppose the contraceptive mandate for religious reasons. The court noted that cases challenging the mandate for nonprofit entities, such as Catholic colleges and faith-based employers, are pending and that the June 30 ruling doesn’t consider them. The decision also did not delve into whether the private employers have religiously motivated protection from laws under the First Amendment.

It said the government failed to satisfy the requirement of RFRA, a 1993 law, that the least-restrictive means of accomplishing a government goal be followed to avoid imposing a restriction on religious expression.

The majority opinion said the ruling applies only to the contraceptive mandate and should not be interpreted to hold that all insurance coverage mandates — such as for blood transfusions or vaccinations — necessarily fail if they conflict with an employers’ religious beliefs.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the primary holding, which was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote a separate concurring opinion, which agreed with the ruling, but made clear that while the opinion applies to the particular companies involved in this case, it’s not a sweeping condemnation of the key elements of the contraceptive mandate itself.

“It is important to confirm that a premise of the court’s opinion is its assumption that the HHS regulation here furthers a legitimate and compelling interest in the health of female employees,” wrote Kennedy in his concurrence. He went on to say that the federal government failed to use the least restrictive means of meeting that interest, pointing out that it has granted exemptions from the mandate for employees of nonprofit religious organizations.

“That accommodation equally furthers the government interest, but does not impinge on the plaintiff’s religious beliefs,” he wrote.

In her dissent with the main opinion, Justice Ruth Ginsburg called the court’s decision one of “startling breadth” allowing commercial enterprises to “opt out of any law” except tax laws that they “judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Ginsburg, joined on its merits by Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer, said she was “mindful of the havoc” the ruling could produce and noted that the court’s emphasis on RFRA failed to take into account the impact the decision would have on “third parties who do not share the corporation owners’ religious faith.” She said she believed the law was enacted by Congress “to serve a far less radical purpose.”

“Until today,” she wrote, religious exemptions have not been extended to the “commercial profit-making world” because these groups do not exist to foster the interests of those of the same faith, as religious organizations do. She also questioned why the court failed to make the distinction between a group’s members of diverse beliefs and members who share the same faith.

“The court’s determination that RFRA extends to for-profit corporations is bound to have untoward effects,” she said, adding that even though the court “attempts to cabin its language to closely held corporations, its logic extends to corporations of any size, public or private.”

As a result, she said, “RFRA claims will proliferate.”

Contributing to this story was Carol Zimmermann from CNS, and the staff of the North Texas Catholic.

Copyright (c) 2014 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

WASHINGTON (CNS) — In a narrowly tailored 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court June 30 said closely held companies may be exempted from a government requirement to include contraceptives in employee health insurance coverage under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

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