Burwell v. Hobby Lobby
| We the People do ordain and establish this|
|Standards of review|
|Other legal theories|
|Defining moments in law|
Burwell v. Hobby Lobby is a
huge victory for the Christian right landmark decision made by the Supreme Court in 2014 to allow certain corporations to claim religious exemptions to laws, so long as they "strongly hold that belief." The case used the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to preempt part of the Affordable Care Act. It is important to note that this decision only extends to closely held corporations. For those wondering, a closely held corporation is essentially defined by the IRS as a company in which at least 50% of shares are owned by no more than 5 people. Unsurprisingly this ruling has led to a number of negative reactions primarily from radical left-wing hate groups groups that advocate a separation of church and state. Perhaps the best expression of dissatisfaction with the ruling actually came from Justice Ruth Ginsburg's official statement of dissent.
Of course there is the obvious conclusion that many women will be denied contraceptive coverage under their insurance because of this ruling, but there is also a threat that this decision could establish precedent that would enable companies to
dodge their responsibilities exercise their SCOTUS-given religious rights in other areas. Rulings related to other forms of contraception were ordered reconsidered or appeals denied by the Supreme Court. There's an open question as to whether people needing other forms of healthcare will be pushed under the bus to keep the religionists happy.
As Justice Ginsburg pointed out, it was unprecedented to attribute religious beliefs or freedom to for-profit corporations (in contrast to non-profit organisations which are often set up to fulfil religious goals). It's unclear if this means corporations will now go to hell if they break the Ten Commandments or don't go to church.
Quotes from Justice Ginsburg
All of these quotes can be found in the official court document starting on page 60.
- "Would the exemption… extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah's Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]… Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today's decision."
- "Approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be 'perceived as favoring one religion over another,' the very 'risk the [Constitution's] Establishment Clause was designed to preclude."
- "The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield."
Mines in the minefield
- Three days after the ruling, lawyers representing detainees at Guantanamo Bay filed a lawsuit against the prison for preventing its prisoners for partaking in communal prayer during Ramadan.
- Citing the ruling, a judge excused a FLDS member from testifying in court in a case about child labor who claimed it violated his religious freedom.
- In a hilarious and ironic turnabout, The Satanic Temple has used the Hobby Lobby precedent against states which restrict abortion rights, claiming that such restrictions go against the religious freedom of Satanists. In one case they argued against laws which require "informed consent" forms in order to receive abortions, stating that since the forms employ factual errors and are unnecessary, they violate their religious principles of reason and science. They also argued that because a principle of their religion is that "One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone", anti-abortion laws violated their religious beliefs. In 2019, they lost in the Missouri Supreme Court (against a Missouri law which requires ultrasound and pamphlets to be offered but doesn't force anyone to accept or read them), but proposed to take it to the US Supreme Court.
Following the 2014 judgment, in 2016 the Supreme Court refused to consider a number of similar cases of discrimination involving non-church religious institutions, in Zubik v. Burwell and 6 consolidated cases, avoiding setting further precedents. Donald Trump on coming to power in 2017 sprung into action to defend "religious freedom", meaning the freedom to discriminate based on superstition; Trump's actions were was supported by the Supreme Court in 2020 (Donald Trump v. Pennsylvania, No. 19-454, and The Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania, No. 19-431), so it doesn't seem as if the tide will turn against Hobby Lobby any time soon.
- Wider impact of Hobby Lobby ruling?, Lyle Denniston, Scotus Blog, July 1, 2014
- See the Wikipedia article on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc..
- It Begins: Lawyers For Gitmo Detainees Invoke Hobby Lobby Ruling In Court Filing, Samuel-Warde, July 7, 2014
- Perez v. Paragon Contractors, Corp., Case No. 2:13CV00281-DS (D. Utah Sep. 11, 2014)
- How the Satanic Temple Could Bring Abortion Rights to the Supreme Court, Rolling Stone, Aug 24, 2020
- Trump administration announces new 'conscience and religious freedom' division at HHS, ABC, 18 January 2018
- Supreme Court says Trump administration can let religious employers deny birth control coverage under Obamacare, CNBC, July 8, 2020