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Diverse groups weigh in on Hobby Lobby contraceptives case

Christians, Jews, atheists, scholars, members of Congress and many others file legal briefs in contraception case before the U.S. Supreme Court
by Chris Casteel Modified: February 2, 2014 at 3:00 pm •  Published: February 2, 2014

Christians, Jews, atheists, members of Congress, physicians, scholars, lawyers, state attorneys general, women's groups and many others weighed in last week on the Hobby Lobby contraception case before the Supreme Court.

Dozens of “friend of the court" briefs were filed with the high court in the Hobby Lobby case and a closely related one. The large majority support Hobby Lobby's position that a federal law protects the Oklahoma City-based arts-and-crafts chain from a government mandate in the Affordable Care Act to provide contraceptives in its health care coverage.

The justices are scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case on March 25, with a ruling expected this summer.

The Obama administration is asking justices to reverse a ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Hobby Lobby — and a Christian bookstore chain, Mardel, owned by the same Oklahoma City family — have the same rights as corporations that individuals have under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

A similar case involving a Pennsylvania furniture company owned by Mennonite Christians will be heard at the same time; in that case, a federal appeals court ruled that the company, Conestoga Wood, did not have the same First Amendment religious protections as individuals.

Setting precedents

The cases have the potential to set major legal precedents for the free exercise of religion. They also have huge implications for the Affordable Care Act's goal of reducing health care costs for women.

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by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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Here are excerpts from a sampling of the briefs siding with Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood:

“Religious entrepreneurs should never have to choose between allegiance to the state and faithfulness to God when their beliefs can be accommodated without sacrificing public peace or safety.”

— Liberty Life and Law Foundation, Thomas More Society, Christian Family Coalition

“Widely shared moral beliefs hold those who control or manage corporations responsible for corporate wrongdoing. The government often shares those beliefs when enforcing the criminal law.

“There is nothing unusual about the Greens and the Hahns believing that they would be morally responsible for causing their corporations to pay for abortifacients. And it would be a shocking omission if their claims were wholly excluded from RFRA.”

— Religious groups including Southern Baptists, Mormons, Lutherans and the Christian Legal Society

“The government cannot force individuals to forfeit their free exercise rights when they incorporate a business — just as it cannot force individuals to forsake these liberties when they enter the workforce, attend school, or engage in any other secular pursuit.

“More to the point, there is nothing about the act of incorporation that amounts to a waiver of individual free exercise rights. And there is nothing in this Court's jurisprudence or in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that requires an individual to surrender her right to conduct her business in accordance with her religious beliefs when she seeks the civil benefits of incorporation.”

— Cato Institute, a Libertarian think tank

“In accordance with their religious beliefs, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga cannot provide coverage for abortion-inducing drugs and devices. As the Mandate forces them to do precisely what their religion forbids, it is beyond question that it imposes a substantial burden on Hobby Lobby's and Conestoga's religious exercise.

“This burden, moreover, cannot possibly be justified by a compelling interest, nor is the Mandate the least restrictive means to achieve the Government's stated ends.”

— U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

“By enacting religious exceptions in many statutes, Congress has sought to protect religious exercise where a specific burden is clear. And in enacting RFRA, in keeping with its bipartisan practice of protecting religious liberty, Congress expressed its intent to protect against any burden on religious exercise — no matter the individual or entity burdened — that might arise in future, unforeseen circumstances.”

— 88 members of Congress, including four Republican House members from Oklahoma

Here are excerpts from a sampling of the briefs siding with the Obama administration:

“If Hobby Lobby can deploy RFRA to block coverage of women's reproductive health, the next believer will argue against vaccinations, and the next against screenings for children or domestic violence screening and counseling. There is no limit to the variety of religious believers in the United States, and good reason to know that the vulnerable will pay the price.”

— Freedom From Religion Foundation and other groups, including Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests

“The fundamental point of organizing a business in corporate form is to separate the legal identity of the business from that of its shareholders or managers. Interpreting RFRA to allow a for-profit business corporation to assert religious free-exercise rights based on the personal beliefs of some group of individual shareholders or managers would be a startling departure from that norm.”

— 16 states, including California and Massachusetts

“Far from vindicating the Constitution's promise of religious liberty, a ruling granting an exemption to secular, for-profit business corporations from the ACA's contraceptive coverage requirement would allow business owners to impose their personal religious beliefs on their employees, many of whom have different religious views and want and need access to the full range of FDA-approved contraceptives.

“Such a ruling would turn the First Amendment on its head, allowing secular, for-profit businesses to enforce a religious orthodoxy in the workplace.”

— Constitutional Accountability Center

“Because the Corporations seek to upset the balance crafted by Congress — a balance that appropriately respects religious exercise while promoting the rights of women to necessary and appropriate health care — they should not be granted a judicial exception to the contraceptive coverage requirement.”

— 91 members of Congress, including House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, of California

“If this Court were to uphold Hobby Lobby's claim for a RFRA exemption from the Mandate, it would deprive Hobby Lobby's thousands of female employees and the covered female dependents of all employees of this entitlement.

“This, in turn, would saddle them with significant burdens ranging from the substantial out-of-pocket expense of purchasing certain contraceptives to the personal and financial costs of unintended pregnancies. The Establishment Clause (of the First Amendment) does not permit this.”

— Law professors who teach and write on church-state issues


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