Updated: Reform Movement Decries Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Decision
In their 5-4 ruling yesterday, the Supreme Court found that closely-held corporations – like Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties – may seek an exemption under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. Although Justice Samuel Alito attempted to curtail the decision to apply only for exemptions to the contraception mandate, this ruling could be construed down the line to allow other closely-held corporations to seek other exemptions under RFRA from further health insurance requirements and civil rights laws. In response to the ruling, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Steve Fox, CEO of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and Rabbi Marla J. Feldman, Executive Director of Women of Reform Judaism, and Rabbi David Saperstein, Director and Council of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism jointly issued a statement:
“We bemoan the Supreme Court’s decision today, which, in ascribing the same religious free exercise rights to closely-held for-profit corporations that are essential to individuals and religious associations, allows countless numbers of corporations to limit women’s access to reproductive healthcare that those women seek. We also acknowledge the Court making clear that this ruling applies only to the contraception mandate and does not provide for exemptions for coverage of other health care needs or from statutes barring illegal discrimination.”
In reporting for the New York Times, Adam Liptak notes the difference in the way the majority and the dissent characterized the sweep of the decision – as stated, Alito’s majority opinion, and Justice Anthony Kennedy’s concurring opinion aims to curtail this new interpretation of RFRA to the contraception mandate. However, in a strong dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg warned that other owners of closely-held corporations will look to this case and claim a RFRA exemption to other federal statutes. Read the full opinion here.
The next few days and weeks will be critical as we process the decision and understand the implications for future, similar situations, when an employer seeks a RFRA exemption from a neutrally applied federal law that could have negative impact on a third party.
In the meantime, here are some good analysis pieces on the decision:
- Dahlia Lithwick of Slate.com, “Supreme Court Breakfast Table: For a hands-off court, this one sure is hands-on”
- Amy Howe of SCOTUSblog.com, “Court rules in favor of for-profit corporations, but how broadly? In Plain English”
- The New York Times’ “Room for Debate: Congress, Religion, and the Court”
- This is a nearly comprehensive list of articles about the Hobby Lobby decision from the International Center for Law and Religion Studies. This list will very likely be updated.
We hosted a re-cap call with Dahlia Lithwick, one of the country’s leading journalists covering the Court. Dahlia will provide her expert analysis on what the decision means for religious freedom, reproductive rights, and all. Listen to the call here: