Monday, June 30, 2014
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
June 30, 2014
Opinion of the Court
BURWELL, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, ET AL. v. HOBBY LOBBY
STORES, INC., ET AL.
CONESTOGA WOOD SPECIALTIES CORPORATION ET AL., PETITIONERS 13–356 v.
SYLVIA BURWELL, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, ET AL.
Justice Alito delivered the opinion of the Court.
We must decide in these cases whether the Religious Freedom Restoration
Act of 1993 (RFRA), 107 Stat. 1488, 42 U. S. C. §2000bb et seq., permits
the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to
demand that three closely held corporations provide health-insurance
coverage for methods of contraception that violate the sincerely held
religious beliefs of the companies' owners.
In holding that the HHS mandate is unlawful, we reject HHS's argument
that the owners of the companies forfeited all RFRA protection when they
decided to organize their businesses as corporations rather than sole
proprietorships or general partnerships. The plain terms of RFRA make it
perfectly clear that Congress did not discriminate in this way against
men and women who wish to run their businesses as for-profit
corporations in the manner required by their religious beliefs.
Since RFRA applies in these cases, we must decide whether the challenged
HHS regulations substantially burden the exercise of religion, and we
hold that they do.
Ginsburg, J., dissenting
Importantly, the decisions whether to claim benefits under the plans are
made not by Hobby Lobby or Conestoga, but by the covered employees and
dependents, in consultation with their health care providers. Should an
employee of Hobby Lobby or Conestoga share the religious beliefs of the
Greens and Hahns, she is of course under no compulsion to use the
contraceptives in question. But "[n]o individual decision by an employee
and her physician — be it to use contraception, treat an infection, or
have a hip replaced — is in any meaningful sense [her employer's]
decision or action." Grote v. Sebelius, 708 F. 3d 850, 865 (CA7 2013)
(Rovner, J., dissenting). It is doubtful that Congress, when it
specified that burdens must be "substantia[l]," had in mind a linkage
thus interrupted by independent decisionmakers (the woman and her health
counselor) standing between the challenged government action and the
religious exercise claimed to be infringed. Any decision to use
contraceptives made by a woman covered under Hobby Lobby's or
Conestoga's plan will not be propelled by the Government, it will be the
woman's autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults.
Comment by Don McCanne
Allowing an employer to deny coverage of family planning services for
employees, strictly on the basis of the employer's own religion, is yet
one more flaw in our highly dysfunctional system of health care
financing - a system that is being perpetuated by the Affordable Care
Act. If we had a single payer national health program, the employer
would not be involved.
As Justice Ginsburg stated in her dissent, a woman's use of family
planning services should be "the woman's autonomous choice, informed by
the physician she consults." If religious beliefs enter into that
decision, it should be the religious beliefs of the individual and not
at 3:39 PM