Religious liberty advocates are applauding a Supreme Court ruling striking down the federal contraception mandate for some for-profit companies, while asking that protection be ensured for non-profit groups as well.
Barbara Green, co-founder of Hobby Lobby, said that she and her family were “overjoyed” at the news of the June 30 decision.
“Today the nation’s highest court has re-affirmed the vital importance of religious liberty as one of our country’s founding principles,” she said. “The Court’s decision is a victory, not just for our family business, but for all who seek to live out their faith.”
Lori Windham, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented Hobby Lobby and the Green family in court, said that the “landmark decision” will help “protect people of all faiths.”
“The Supreme Court recognized that Americans do not lose their religious freedom when they run a family business,” she explained, adding that the court “has strongly signaled that the mandate is in trouble in the non-profit cases, too.”
On June 30, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of the both the Green family, evangelical Christians who own and operate the Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby, and the Hahn family, the Mennonite owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties.
Both families objected to certain provisions of the federal contraception mandate. Issued by the Department of Health and Human Services under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, the mandate requires employers to offer health insurance covering contraception, sterilization and some drugs and devices that can cause early abortions.
The Greens and Hahns both say the mandate would require them to violate their religious beliefs by funding and facilitating abortion drugs.
In the majority opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, the high court ruled that “(t)he contraceptive mandate, as applied to closely held corporations, violates” federal religious freedom laws.
In his concurring opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy added, “Among the reasons the United States is so open, so tolerant, and so free is that no person may be restricted or demeaned by government in exercising his or her religion.”
The court ruled that the mandate cannot be applied to closely-held corporations with religious owners who object to it. The IRS defines “closely-held corporations” as those with more than 50 percent of their stock held by five or fewer individuals.
Matt Bowman, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the Hahn family, explained to CNA that the Supreme Court’s ruling affirms that “religious freedom belongs to everyone in every area of their lives.”
“I think a win for religious freedom is going to raise the tide across the board,” although there are still questions about how this ruling will affect other challengers to the government mandate, he said.
“This fight is going to continue in the non-profit cases.”
Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for the Becket Fund, said that “today’s decision is a big win for freedom in America.”
Rienzi, who is also a law professor at The Catholic University of America, argued that deciding what does and does not violate a person’s beliefs are “decisions for religious people, not for the government, to make.”
The ruling was also welcomed by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.
“In this case, justice has prevailed, with the Court respecting the rights of the Green and Hahn families to continue to abide by their faith in how they seek their livelihood, without facing devastating fines,” they said in a June 30 statement.
Numerous Catholic non-profit groups including charities, hospitals and schools are also challenging the contraception mandate. While many non-profit groups have been granted an “accommodation” for religious freedom, some say the modified regulation still require them to facilitate the coverage in a way that violates their beliefs.
Archbishop Kurtz and Archbishop Lori observed that the “Court clearly did not decide whether the so-called ‘accommodation’ violates” religious freedom laws in these situations.
“We continue to hope that these great ministries of service, like the Little Sisters of the Poor and so many others, will prevail in their cases as well,” they said.
George Mason University law professor Helen Alvare, called the day’s decision good “for the political left and the political right.”
Amid the contraception mandate debate, Alvare co-founded the group Women Speak for Themselves to give voice to more than 40,000 women who oppose the regulation on religious liberty grounds.
She explained that the ruling is good news regardless of political affiliation “because no matter what administration is in power, our religious freedom cannot be violated.”
“Religious freedom is not just a private matter, it is a freedom to serve,” she emphasized.