Hobby Lobby ruling draws renewed commitment from Congress
The Supreme Court’s highly anticipated ruling on the federal contraception mandate has prompted a renewed enthusiasm from lawmakers on both sides of the religious freedom debate.
Part of being an American “has always meant being able to freely choose our faith and live by the dictates of that faith at home, at church and in the public square,” said Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), author of the Health Care Conscience Rights Act, a bill designed to enhance religious freedom protections.
Black argued in a June 30 statement that “increasing access to healthcare should never require forcing people to choose between coverage and their conscience,” and pledged to “continue to work on behalf of Americans across the country to ensure that their First Amendment rights are not being infringed on by this unconstitutional HHS mandate.”
Her comments came in response to the June 30 Supreme Court ruling that said Hobby Lobby and similar employers cannot be forced to comply with the federal contraception mandate against their religious beliefs.
The mandate, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, requires employers to provide health insurance that covers contraception, sterilization and some drugs and devices that can cause early abortion.
Both the Hahn family — the Mennonite owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties — and the Green family — evangelical Christians who own and operate the Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby— objected to the mandate's requirements that they pay for abortion-inducing drugs.
The court ruled that the mandate violates federal religious freedom laws when it is applied to “closely held corporations,” which are defined by the IRS as those in which the majority of stock is owned by five or fewer people.
The Supreme Court specified that its decision “concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to hold that all insurance-coverage mandates, e.g., for vaccinations or blood transfusions, must necessarily fall if they conflict with an employer's religious beliefs. Nor does it provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest responded to the ruling in a June 30 press conference, saying, “We believe that the owners of for-profit companies should not be allowed to assert their own religious views to deny their employees federally mandated benefits.”
While the Obama and members of the administration “strongly disagree” with the high court’s ruling, “this administration will obviously abide by the ruling of the Supreme Court,” he said.
“There is a problem that has been exposed — which is that there is a group of women of an indeterminate size who no longer have access to free contraceptive coverage simply because of some religious views that are held, not by them, but by their bosses,” Earnest said.
He vowed that the administration would work with Congress to fix what it viewed as a “problem that has been created.”
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the Supreme Court’s decision “outrageous,” in a June 30 Facebook post, saying that it set “a dangerous precedent” that would allow companies to “pick and choose which laws to obey.”
However, religious freedom advocates in Congress applauded the decision.
Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), co-chair of the Bi-Partisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, said he was “pleased” by the ruling and the reaffirmation of the “bipartisan Religious Freedom Restoration Act — signed into law by President Bill Clinton 20 years ago,” which provided the main foundation for the court’s decision.
“Protecting religious liberty should not be viewed as a partisan issue,” Lipinski urged in a June 30 post on Facebook. “It is a fundamental right spelled out in the First Amendment of the Constitution.”
He added that “the ‘free exercise clause’ is not just freedom to worship, but freedom to exercise religious beliefs,” stating that the court’s ruling “upholds one of the core principles that makes the United States of America a model for freedom for the world.”
Rep Chris Smith (R-N.J.), another co-chair of the Bi-Partisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, also supported the ruling as a “resounding victory for religious freedom” and for conscience.
However, he said in a June 30 statement, there are still conscience issues surrounding the mandate that should be addressed, including “more than 50 cases involving nonprofit organizations,” who have also “sought similar relief in the courts in order to follow their religious beliefs as they provide healthcare for their employees.”
U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who authored the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act and filed a “friend of the court” brief on behalf of the Green family, also applauded the court’s decision to affirm “the fundamental religious freedom that Americans have enjoyed for more than 220 years.”
“Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court is an important victory to protect Americans’ fundamental right of religious freedom,” he said. “Americans should not be forced to choose between giving up their business for their faith or giving up their faith for their business.”