WASHINGTON — 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.
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.
Hobby Lobby and Mardel are closely-held corporations owned by David Green and his family and operated according to the family's Christian beliefs. The companies are not objecting to all of the contraceptives mandated by the law, only those that they consider abortion-inducing — emergency contraceptives and intrauterine devices.
The case poses a relatively straightforward question — whether for-profit corporations are protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993. If a majority of justices decide corporations have the protection, they will have to move on to more nuanced tests of whether the contraception mandate imposes a substantial burden on religious exercise and whether the government had a compelling reason to impose that burden and did it in the narrowest way possible.
Legal briefs filed by a range of groups last week sought to influence the justices' viewpoints on the specific factors at play and potential ramifications of rulings. Most members of Oklahoma's all-Republican congressional delegation joined in a brief supporting Hobby Lobby, and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt filed his own on the company's side.
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
“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
“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
“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
— 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
— 16 states, including California and Massachusetts
“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
— 91 members of Congress, including House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, of California
“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