Hobby Lobby Reactions

The U.S. bishops conference said “justice has prevailed” in its reaction to today’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties. “We welcome the Supreme Court’s decision to recognize that Americans can continue to follow their faith when they run a family business,” said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. The court ruled that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “preventive services” mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as applied to these employers to the extent that it would have forced them to provide insurance coverage for drugs and devices that violate their religious convictions on respect for human life.

The bishops wrote in response: “In this case, justice has prevailed, with the Court respecting the rights of the Green and Hahn families to continue to abide by their faith in how they seek their livelihood, without facing devastating fines. Now is the time to redouble our efforts to build a culture that fully respects religious freedom.

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“The court clearly did not decide whether the so-called ‘accommodation’ violates RFRA when applied to our charities, hospitals and schools, so many of which have challenged it as a burden on their religious exercise,” the bishops added. “We continue to hope that these great ministries of service, like the Little Sisters of the Poor and so many others, will prevail in their cases as well.”

The court’s decision left open the possibility that the accommodation offered to exempt religious employers could also be applied to private employers which object to the contraception mandate. Reuters reports that the “White House will consider whether president can act on his own to mitigate effect of Supreme Court contraception ruling,” presumably along the lines of a similar accommodation strategy. So far I can find no comment on whether such an outcome (a private sphere “accommodation”) would simply result in the same legalistic quagmire that the U.S. bishops and other religious employers are already confronting in their various suits against the contraception mandate.

The American Civil Liberties Union deplored the decision, calling it a loss for women and arguing that religion was being used "as a license to discriminate": "The highest court in the country ruled today that it is acceptable for closely held corporations to use their religious beliefs to take away benefits guaranteed to their employees by law—something the Supreme Court has never before sanctioned," the ACLU noted in a statement at its website. "Everyone has the right to his or her religious beliefs, but those beliefs cannot be imposed on others.

"At issue in today’s case is part of the Affordable Care Act that requires health plans to cover contraception without a co-pay. This law was designed to ensure women’s equality by eliminating the disparities in health care costs between men and women, and to ensure women have the ability to make decisions about whether and when to become parents, which in turns allow them to participate equally in society.

"Women who work at Hobby Lobby and other closely held companies with religious objections to providing contraception coverage will now be denied that coverage, which will impact their reproductive health and other aspects of their lives. These women will also face dignitary harm knowing that their employers are singling out health care coverage that only women need."

Earlier today the the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, through its spokesperson Dan Andriacco, had this reaction to the court’s ruling:

“In opposing the HHS mandate, the church has done so not only on behalf of religious institutions, but also out of concern for the rights of business owners who are forced to violate their conscience or pay a fine. As Pope Francis said in Evangelli Gaudium, ‘No one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life.’ In other words, religious freedom is more than just the freedom to worship, but also the freedom to live our faith in the world. The Supreme Court today has recognized that basic human right.”

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference pronounced itself cheered by the ruling. “In its decision in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Products cases, the Court properly concluded that religious conscience of closely held businesses is to be protected from government coercion. Further, the Court determined that the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate is improper as it forces a closely held company to pay for coverage of products and services that violate the owners’ firmly held religious beliefs.”

The Pennsylvania bishops noted that the decision could have implications for various challenges to the existing accommodation offered to religious employers from the HHS mandate on contraception. “Religious ministries of service—such as charities, schools, health care facilities and institutions of higher education—are given, at best, second-class status under the law in the form of a still-murky ‘accommodation.’ Many religious entities, including Catholic dioceses, are challenging this mandate in federal courts across the country. 

“The Catholic Bishops of Pennsylvania express the hope that, in light of this ruling, the Obama Administration will do the right thing and withdraw the mandate as it has been applied to religious ministries. That step will bring to an end litigation which religious ministries were forced to undertake to protect their religious conscience and to assure that statutory and constitutional protections would not be trampled.

In a post at the website for the Catholic Alliance for the Common Good, spokesperson Christopher Hale wrote (updated: 2:50 pm): “While we are still studying the details of the Supreme Court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, we believe this ruling is an imperfect attempt to uphold the American tradition of protecting the religious liberty of the citizens of the United States. We are glad to see that the Supreme Court thinks that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act narrowly applies to some privately and closely held corporations. That being said, we remain committed to seeing the implementation of health care reform throughout the nation. While asserting the right of individuals and religious organizations to practice their religion without undue interference of the federal government, we too believe that access to quality health care is a God-given right for all Americans. This case once again proves the necessity of a single-payer health care system where access is not dependent on one's job."

Bloggers at Politico contemplated the political impact of the decision:

"The contraception coverage mandate isn’t central to the [Affordable Care Act], the way the individual mandate is. By letting some closely held employers — like family-owned businesses — opt out of the coverage if they have religious objections, the justices haven’t blown a hole in the law that unravels its ability to cover millions of Americans. They didn’t even overturn the contraception coverage rule itself. They just carved out an exemption for some employers from one benefit, one that wasn’t even spelled out when the law was passed.

"But politically, that doesn’t matter.

"What matters is that the Supreme Court has ruled that the Obama administration overreached on one of the most sensitive cultural controversies in modern politics. And in doing so, the justices have given the Affordable Care Act one more setback that it didn’t need heading into the mid-term elections."

At the OnFaith blog Brian McLaren wondered if the decision might in practice turn out to mean more abortions and at Mirror of Justice Thomas Berg writes: The broad issues are resolved in the plaintiffs' favor (rightly in my view): for-profit closely-held corporations can be persons exercising religion, and the coverage mandate with accompanying fines and assessments imposes a substantial burden. 

“The Court dodges the compelling-interest question and decides the case on 'less restrictive means': the majority opinion and the Kennedy concurrence ultimately point to the insurer-pays accommodation for nonprofits as a less restrictive means of providing contraception coverage. I think the opinion and concurrence imply that some form of the nonprofit accommodation will be held a permissible solution (perhaps with tweaking about who the notification of opt-out must be sent to.)….I also think this is a good result. RFRA should apply in the commercial sphere and should be taken seriously, but it also was not meant to—and should not—cut a swath of destruction through general commercial regulation.”

Coincidentally Gallup reported today that Americans' confidence in the Supreme Court had reached a record low of 30 percent. In fact Gallup reports that confidence levels in all three branches of the U.S. government has fallen, also record lows for Congress at 7 percent. Confidence in the presidency reached a six-year low of 29 percent.

Gallup has tracked confidence in the Supreme Court since 1973. The institution's record high of 56 percent was reached twice, in 1985 and 1988. Gallup notes: “While Americans clearly have the lowest amount of confidence in the legislative branch, ratings for all three are down and are at or near their lowest points to date. At this point, Americans place much greater faith in the military and the police than in any of the three branches of government.”

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Bill Mazzella
3 years 5 months ago
There may be something wrong with the premise here. The vast majority of Christians practice contraception and believe that it is morally acceptable. Perhaps the owners of Holly Boddy will now certify that they practice NFP to limit their families.
Kevin Clarke
3 years 5 months ago

FYI: Hobby Lobby's owners actually support most forms of contraception. In their suit, they attempted to avoid the mandate for those four which they deem to be abortifacients--Plan B, Ella, and two intrauterine devices.

Egberto Bermudez
3 years 5 months ago
Reply Kevin, it is not only the Hobby Lobby’s owners that deem the contraceptives that you mentioned as abortifacients but they might function as such, according the FDA’s own labeling. In which case they would even be objectionable to the atheists members of the U.F.L.(University Faculty for Life) that Fr. John J. Conley,S.J. mentions in his article “Unexpected Ecumenism.” http://www.americamagazine.org/issue/unexpected-ecumenism They are also objectionable to the Democrats for Life of America. I would like to share with your readers this interesting quote from the Statement of Kristen Day from DFLA (Democrats for Life of America) on the Hobby Lobby Decision: “The ruling applies immediately only to intrauterine devices and morning-after pills, since that is all that these companies opposed. But the ruling will also protect companies that have objections to other contraceptive methods. DFLA did not take a position on whether those religious objections should succeed. But we agree that the conscience rights of all deserve equal consideration in this context. This decision does not undo the Obama administration's deeply erroneous decision to include abortion-causing drugs and devices in the contraceptive mandate in the first place. The religious-freedom law involved in the case only provides for exceptions from participating in the mandate. DFLA supports efforts to remove potential abortifacients from the mandate altogether. “ http://www.democratsforlife.org/index.php/articles-and-op-eds/press-releases/856-statement-of-kristen-day-on-hobby-lobby-decision I would also like to share the best succinct and clear explanation that I have read on the Hobby Lobby Decision in a Statement by Professor O. Carter Snead: “Below is a statement from O. Carter Snead, Director of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture and Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School, regarding today's Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. "Today’s Supreme Court opinion in Hobby Lobby is a strong and welcome affirmation that the faithful do not lose the protections of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act simply because they choose to exercise their religion through a closely held for-profit business. "The decision is a clear rebuke to the federal government’s efforts to compel family business owners like the Greens to provide coverage for drugs and devices that (according to FDA’s own labeling) might function to cause the death of a human being at the embryonic stage of development. The Court also squarely rejected as woefully inadequate the government’s suggestion that the Greens could avoid violating their religious commitments by simply dropping all of their employees from the generous Hobby Lobby health plan. Finally, the Court confirmed that the government may not second-guess or substitute its own opinions for the sincere judgment of religious believers about what their faith requires. "At the same time, the Court made it clear that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is not an automatic trump card for the faithful against all state action. The statute provides a careful balancing test that – consistent with our nation’s best traditions – requires accommodation of sincerely held religious beliefs except in those cases where the challenged law is the least restrictive means of accomplishing a compelling state interest. One could easily imagine a future challenge to a government program (e.g., vaccinations) or an insincere plaintiff that would not prevail under RFRA. "By contrast, the HHS contraceptive mandate marks a clear and unlawful overreach by the government under RFRA. Even assuming (as the Court did) that the government’s asserted interest here is compelling, there are myriad less restrictive means of pursuing this goal without conscripting the Greens into paying for or otherwise facilitating access to drugs and devices that might cause the death of a living human embryo. Most obviously, the government could pay for these drugs and devices directly. "Hopefully, in light of today’s ruling, the federal government will reverse its misguided strategy of coercing religious believers and their institutions – including the University of Notre Dame - into facilitating conduct that conflicts with their deeply and sincerely held religious convictions." http://ethicscenter.nd.edu/announcements/directorcartersneadonhobbylobbyruling
Vince Killoran
3 years 5 months ago
More proof that we need a single payer plan. The lawsuits were nonsense and the majority's decision was silly. "Closely held" for-profit corporations don't have to follow federal law?! Why not other corporations? Why not for other matters besides reproductive health issues? Not well-reasoned or consistent. I had to laugh out loud when I read the Justices glib suggestion to just let the government pay for coverage. This, from free market ideologues. Just as bad was the anti-union decision. I have met many anti-union folks over the decades who benefit enormously from union contracts. None were willing to forfeit the union wage and benefits premiums. Talk about freeloaders.
Vincent Gaitley
3 years 5 months ago
Following federal law is the problem, that is, which law? There's the Constitution, the Affordable Health Care Act, the Religious Freedom Act, and then there's that Dept of HHS regulation that created the contraception mandate--it was not in the body of the Health Care Act. Congress didn't vote on it, the president didn't sign it, it was created purely by bureaucrats hellbent on twisting the nation to their will. The Supreme Court decided that the Constitution wins, and that the other two acts were in conflict, so the regulation fell. Good.
Michael Barberi
3 years 5 months ago
The SCOTUS ruled that for the Federal Government to impose a burden on a person it must be advancing a compelling national interest and use the least restrictive means, per the RFRA. SCOTUS determined that contraceptive coverage was a compelling health interest BUT did not agree that the Government was using the least restrictive means. It argued that the Government could extend to closely-held for-profit companies the same exemption-accommodation it extends to non-profit religious organizations…namely, that they could opt-out of the contraceptive mandate but employees could get coverage by contacting the employer's insurance company or third party administrator without cost. The Government could also by-pass an employer requirement about contraceptive coverage and pay for this coverage themselves (e.g., like a single payer system). This raises questions and complex problems. 1. If Obama extends the current religious exemption option for non-profit religious organizations to closely held for-profit companies (an unlikely event), then the question becomes what is the reason that other larger companies could not be granted this option? When Obama granted this exemption it designed an accommodation that partly satisfied religious organizations like the RCC and the Government's desire for universal access to contraceptive coverage. Obama did not base its accommodation and exemption on the RFRA. If the ACA regulations are changed by the HHS (again, an unlikely event) what criteria will Obama use? For-profit companies with 6-10 stakeholders with more than 50% ownership will likely argue that they should be granted this so-called exemption based on the religious belief of the owners? In other words, if the Government must deal with a religious liberty exemption argument as well as the RFRA, what is the compelling rationale for using the IRS's definition of a "closely-held" for-profit company? What is so sacred about it? 2. Given the Congressional divide a single payer system nor an amended RFRA are realistic solutions. We will have to see if the SCOTUS will hear other cases such as the cases the Bishops have brought to court before this larger issue is resolved on religious liberty or other grounds. At this point, the Obama administration is likely to find more minefields in any executive action.
Norm Chouinard
3 years 5 months ago
My main concern is that this should be a great teaching moment for a clear understanding of why contraception is a contradiction to God's love, the Theology of the Body. Instead it seems that we are merely praising a court victory regarding Freedom of Religious Expression (certainly laudable) while leaving the ACLU and Justice Ginsburg to define the merits of contraception for the people. How many Catholic apologists will care to use this moment? How many sermons this Sunday will revisit Catholic teaching on this matter to a congregation mostly informed by the MSM?
Beth Cioffoletti
3 years 5 months ago
I am concerned about the intimate relationship between CORPORATION and RELIGION. In the USA this is further complicated by the relationship between Corporation and State. I think that the common denominator is POWER. When I was in Rome last spring a free exhibit in the Braccio di Carlo Magno museum was being advertised in St. Peter’s Square. Entitled “Verbum Domini II” God’s Word Goes Out to the Nations: the exhibit brings together over 200 artifacts to tell the history of the Bible across the globe. It was a beautifully displayed depiction of the spread of Scripture (both the Old and New Testament) around the world. I loved seeing a replica of the Rosetta stone, fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the old books. What was lacking, for me, was any sense of what the heart of this message of Scripture is. Only the mission of spreading the Word, whether it be through books or digital media. NO idea of what this message is or how it is to be LIVED. As if one can read a book and “get it”. When I got home I found out that this Vatican exhibit is the private collection of the Green family, founders of Hobby Lobby. The Green Collection is the world’s largest private collection of rare biblical texts and artifacts. The corporation also sponsors the Creation Museum in KY, which argues against evolution. I agree with Norm - this is a great teaching moment for the Catholic Church. I want to know why sex for my husband and I, beyond child-bearing years, is sacred, holy, profoundly bonding at a level deeper than words, and ok. But it is not ok for younger couples who use birth control or anybody else (gay, lesbians). I suppose a celibate cleric would be the one with the most insight on this matter.
Beth Cioffoletti
3 years 5 months ago
I'm also beginning to think that some men are fundamentally incapable of understanding the woman's predicament, many of whom raise children without any help from men.
Tim O'Leary
3 years 5 months ago
Both cases this week are small steps in defense of the First Amendment. If one corporation (like the NYT or NBC) can have protection from one part of the First Amendment (free speech or free press), then it stands to reason that another company should also have protection for another part of the same Amendment, such as religious freedom. Also, if we truly believe in the freedom of association, then one should not be forced to join a union just to get a job. I wonder how many women who work for Hobby Lobby will consider it a burden on their rights to have their choice of FREE contraceptives cut down from 20 to 16? It was only the four types that the evangelical Green’s didn’t want to pay for, because of their potential post-fertilization mechanisms of action. This is a small victory against the heavy hand of this administration, who is trying to draft corporations into its War on Religion, conscripting corporations to administer its antihuman agenda. We just went through the worst decline in GDP in 5 years (the largest downward revision since recordkeeping began) of -2.9%, and it appears that the largest effect was not the weather but the huge drop in healthcare spending (-6.4%, instead of the expected increase of >30%, which would have occurred if the uninsured spent as much as the economists predicted with Obamacare). So many people lost their insurance that they delayed their spending. I hope there won’t be an uptick in delayed diagnoses and earlier deaths because of this. As to our government's experience with a single payer system, we have the VA Hospitals. Broken promises, broken policies, broken borders, broken budgets, broken families, broken veterans… No wonder the people have lost confidence in the government they elected. But, since the American people put this government into office, what does it say about our confidence in the American voter to get us out of this mess? The fault may not be in our political stars, but in ourselves.
Michael Barberi
3 years 5 months ago
From an article in Commonweal by Michael Peppard. He notes that the Hobby Lobby ruling might have a very negative impact on religious non-profits, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, in their court battle to be exempted from the ACA contraceptive mandate. I agree the logic makes sense. Note the following. Justice Kennedy, part of the majority, said HHS shouldn't distinguish between different religious believers, "when it may treat both equally by offering both of them the same accommodation." Later he repeats that "the mechanism for doing so is already in place." Thus the accommodation of religious non-profits currently on offer is precisely the legal model available for the for-profits (such as Hobby Lobby). Justice Alito makes similar points. The suspicion that religious non-profits are not going to be exempted is perhaps corroborated by Alito's little scuffle in the footnotes about the fate of Little Sisters of the Poor for the Aged v. Sibelius (Alito n. 40 v. Ginsburg n. 27). That is to say, with today's ruling -- and presuming the same occupants of the court in the near future -- it is difficult if not impossible to see how religious non-profits such as Little Sisters of the Poor could win a RFRA claim.
Tim O'Leary
3 years 5 months ago
Re the last paragraph on the Gallup Poll, CNN and ABC, and others, had stories on a Quinnipiac University poll, released yesterday, where President Obama was ranked the worst president since WWII (Reagan was the best). While these polls are just point-in-time popularity contests, something is going terribly wrong in the Hope and Change message he began with.

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