WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to determine whether Hobby Lobby and a Pennsylvania furniture company can deny their employees federally required birth control coverage that violates the religious beliefs of the company owners.
The high court justices accepted cases that have received conflicting decisions in federal appeals courts. Through the cases, the justices could determine whether the for-profit companies have the constitutional right and the leeway under a federal law to reject the birth control mandate that is part of the Affordable Care Act.
A decision on the mandate — which has been challenged in dozens of cases nationwide — is expected some time before the court's term ends in June. Experts on both sides of the issue predicted Tuesday that the case could ultimately have far-reaching implications for religious freedom and health care coverage.
Hobby Lobby, a nationwide chain of crafts stores based in Oklahoma City, is owned by David Green and his family and operated according to the family's Christian beliefs.
The company, and its related Christian bookstore chain, faced millions of dollars in potential fines for refusing to implement the birth control mandate but won a reprieve from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in June that it could challenge the mandate on religious grounds.
Hobby Lobby and the U.S. Justice Department, which is defending the mandate, asked the high court to review the case.
Both sides react
“My family and I are encouraged that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide our case,” Green, Hobby Lobby's founder and CEO, said Tuesday.
“This legal challenge has always remained about one thing and one thing only: the right of our family businesses to live out our sincere and deeply held religious convictions as guaranteed by the law and the Constitution. Business owners should not have to choose between violating their faith and violating the law.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the birth control coverage mandate on companies with 50 or more employees was legal and “designed to ensure that health care decisions are made between a woman and her doctor.”
“The president believes that no one, including the government or for-profit corporations, should be able to dictate those decisions to women. The administration has already acted to ensure no church or similar religious institution will be forced to provide contraception coverage and has made a commonsense accommodation for nonprofit religious organizations that object to contraception on religious grounds.”