Five Takeaways From the Hobby Lobby Case

The nine Supreme Court justices, public domain

The nine Supreme Court justices, public domain

Five things to know about one of the most anticipated Supreme Court decisions of the year:

1. Corporations can’t pray, but they do have religious rights.

Hobby Lobby isn’t a person. It’s a chain of crafts stores owned by a religious family. And though the evangelical Green family objects to parts of the Affordable Care Act’s emergency contraception mandate, it’s not the Greens but the company that writes the check for employees’ health insurance. The first question the justices had to answer was this: Does Hobby Lobby have religious rights? To many Americans, this sounds a little nutty. Does a craft store believe in God?

A majority of the justices held that a closely held company such as Hobby Lobby does have religious rights. The court didn’t apply those rights, however, to publicly held corporations, where owners’ religious beliefs would be hard to discern.

But well before the justices had delivered their verdict on this question, many legal scholars said they wouldn’t be surprised were they to affirm the company’s religious rights. American corporations do have some of the rights and responsibilities we usually associate with people. And in the 2010Citizens United campaign finance case, the justices overturned bans on corporate political spending as a violation of freedom of speech — corporations’ free speech.

White House Expands Religious Exemptions to Contraception Mandate

Birth control pack, Melissa King / Shutterstock.com

Birth control pack, Melissa King / Shutterstock.com

The Obama administration on Friday sought to placate religious groups by broadening religious exemptions and giving faith-based organizations more room to maneuver around its controversial contraception mandate, but the new rules offer no loopholes for privately owned businesses.

The contraception mandate, part of Obama’s health care overhaul, had set off an explosive church-state dispute and soured relations between the White House and some Christian groups, including the Catholic bishops’ conference.

The new rules, issued by the Health and Human Services Department, seek to address religious freedom concerns in two ways: First, they broaden the definition of “religious employers” so that all houses of worship and dioceses and affiliated organizations will be clearly exempt. Second, for other faith-based employers, the rules would transfer the costs and administrative tasks of the birth control insurance policies to insurance companies.

Poll: Most Americans Say Employers Should Cover Contraception

Photo: Birth control pill, © Calek / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Birth control pill, © Calek / Shutterstock.com

Most Americans say that employers — even religious ones — should provide birth control coverage to their employees, according to a survey released on Monday. 

The poll by LifeWay Research also showed that almost two-thirds of Americans (63 percent) believe businesses should be required to provide the coverage for free, even if contraception conflicts with the owner’s religious ethics.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 health care reform law, President Barack Obama issued regulations that require most employers, including some religious ones like Catholic colleges and hospitals, to provide birth control coverage. The administration has said it may expand the policy to accommodate additional religious organizations.

I'm With Mrs. Gates: Contraception Shouldn't Be Controversial


I have to admire Melinda Gates' chutzpah.

In her recent TED talk and on her blog, Impatient Optimist, Gates insists that "contraception is not controversial" — when, in the last year, it has been explosively controversial, with many Christians (not just Catholic Christians) seeing the "contraceptive mandate" as a real threat to religious freedom.

Yesterday, the new Affordable Care Act laws took effect, meaning that most employers must now provide free birth control coverage in their health insurance policies. Whether it constitutes a threat to religious liberty and whether  remains to be seen — faith-based groups with religious objections to the law have a "safe harbor" until Aug. 1, 2013. Whether HHS will create an extension of this harbor is as yet unknown.

Regular readers of my blog know where I stand on health insurance. As to the contraceptive mandate specifically, I'd prefer not to wade in those particular waters — David Gibson had a good piece if you're interested in the question of whether the mandate kills religious freedom. However, I do want to consider two small points about contraception that lean me toward the (self-identified Catholic!) Melinda Gates point of view:

1. Contraception doesn't take life;
2. Women want contraception.

Wheaton College Files Injuction for 'Emergency Relief' from HHS Contraception Mandate

Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill.

Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill.

Today Wheaton College, a leading evangelical Christian school and the alma mater of the Rev. Billy Graham in Illinois, sought an injunction for "emergency relief," as it seeks to remain exempt from the Health and Human Services (HHS) insurance mandate which comes into effect today.

Filed on Wheaton's behalf by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the preliminary injunction would, the college hopes, temporarily keep at bay the fines which would be levied on them under the mandate, should they fail to comply with the provisions.

The provisions, which are part of the Affordable Care Act, would require “most employer health insurance plans to provide birthday control coverage,” as was reported on God’s Politics last month. Many Catholic institutions and groups have already filed lawsuits again the mandate, and Wheaton is one of a growing number of evangelical institutions joining in the legal challenge.

Does the Contraception Mandate Really Kill Religious Freedom?


Demonstrators protest the contraception mandate on the National Mall in March. TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

The Obama administration’s policy requiring most employers to provide free birth control coverage in their health insurance policies takes effect on Aug. 1 — a deadline that has sparked apocalyptic warnings from conservative activists and some faith groups.

“August 1st is a day that will live in infamy for the First Amendment and the fundamental freedoms and rights we as a people have enjoyed since the founding of our nation,” said Brent Bozell, head of ForAmerica. “With the stroke of a pen, the Obama Administration has shredded the First Amendment and the Constitution right before our eyes.”

“August 1st will be remembered as the day our most cherished liberty was thrown in a government dumpster and hauled away,” echoed Matt Smith, head of Catholic Advocate. And that’s just a sampling of the outrage.

Are the claims legitimate? As with most federal regulations, it’s complicated, and the supercharged politics of the issue, in the midst of a presidential campaign, don’t help.

Moreover, religious freedom is by its nature a topic that prompts heated debates — without always providing a clear answer.

Affordable Care Act: What Could Happen?

CNN examines some of the possible outcomes of the Supreme Court's imminent decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act:

"The election-year rulings will not only guide how every American receives medical care but will also establish precedent-setting boundaries for how government regulation can affect a range of social areas. Your health and your finances could be on the line.

The outcome's possibilities are myriad: a narrow or sweeping decision? A road map to congressional authority in coming decades? Which bloc of justices, which legal argument will win the day?"
Read more here

Catholic Hospitals Reject Obama’s Birth Control Compromise

RNS photo courtesy Pete Souza / The White House

President Barack Obama talks with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. RNS photo courtesy Pete Souza / The White House

In an unexpected blow to the Obama administration and a major boon for America's Catholic bishops, the influential Catholic Health Association on June 15 rejected White House proposals aimed at easing faith-based objections to the contraception mandate.

“The more we learn, the more it appears that the … approaches for both insured and self-insured plans would be unduly cumbersome and would be unlikely to adequately meet the religious liberty concerns of all of our members and other Church ministries,” Sister Carol Keehan and leaders of the CHA said in a five-page response to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Religious Leaders Ask HHS to Broaden Birth Control Exemption

US Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a May 2012 meeting a

US Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a May 2012 meeting at the UN. FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

A coalition of nearly 150 religious leaders, led by conservative Protestants, have petitioned the Obama administration to broaden the exemption that allows churches and some religious organizations to avoid a controversial new mandate that all health care insurers provide free contraception coverage.

In a letter sent Monday (June 11) to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the 149 religious leaders note that they hold differing views on “the moral acceptability” of birth control and on the viability of various administration proposals to allow faith-based groups to bypass the mandate for contraception and sterilization coverage.

But they said they share a strong objection to the language that defines which "religious" groups are eligible for an exemption, saying the definition creates a “two-class system” of religious groups: churches, which qualify under the wording of the exemption, and “faith-based service organizations,” which may or may not qualify.

HHS Doesn’t Speak For Me, or Many Women

Image by brandonht / shutterstock.

Pundits and politicians who opine about the so-called war on women ought to take note of the lawsuits filed Monday against the Department of Health and Human Services contraception mandate by 43 religious groups, including several Catholic dioceses and colleges.

The suits object to the requirement that religious institutions provide their employees with insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.

In the propaganda surrounding the mandate, HHS seems to suggest that women’s only stake in the matter is “free” contraception. This is a shallow – and frankly demeaning – view of women, who, equally with men, have an important stake in the preservation of religious freedom in the United States.