Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority (5-4) opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. The decision was decided in large part because it aligns with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law that passed the U.S. Senate 97-3 and was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. The law is intended to prevent burdens to a person’s free exercise of religion. At the time, it had wide ranging bipartisan support and was introduced in the House by current U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
That four justices voted against the decision speaks to the current ideological divide at the court and in the nation of a once non-controversial understanding of religious liberty.
Some significant lines from Alito’s majority decision are below:
As applied to closely held corporations, the HHS regulations imposing the contraceptive mandate violate RFRA.
Religious employers, such as churches, are exempt from this contraceptive mandate. HHS has also effectively exempted religious nonprofit organizations with religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services. Under this accommodation, the insurance issuer must exclude contraceptive coverage from the employer’s plan and provide plan participants with separate payments for contraceptive services without imposing any cost sharing requirements on the employer, its insurance plan, or its employee beneficiaries.
…the court held that HHS had not proved that the mandate was the “least restrictive means” of furthering a compelling governmental interest.
RFRA’s text shows that Congress designed the statute to provide very broad protection for religious liberty…
Protecting the free-exercise rights of closely held corporations thus protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them.
HHS has also provided no evidence that the purported problem of determining the sincerity of an asserted religious belief moved Congress to exclude for-profit corporations from RFRA’s protection.
Government could, e.g., assume the cost of providing the four contraceptives to women unable to obtain coverage due to their employers’ religious objections. Or it could extend the accommodation that HHS has already established for religious nonprofit organizations to non-profit employers with religious objections to the contraceptive mandate.