19 Democratic Senators file amicus brief in Hobby Lobby case
Already thought to be a landmark case, the Supreme Court's consideration of Oklahoma-based company Hobby Lobby's contention that insuring their employees for contraception violates their freedom of religion just got more interesting.
Nineteen US Senators - including 5 women - have filed an amicus brief ("friend of the court") supporting the Obama administration's position that Obamacare's birth control mandate shouldn't apply to corporations.
Hobby Lobby's owners, David Green and his family, are suing the federal government over the mandate, which says large employers' insurance plans must offer birth control without co-pays or else face steep fines.
A lower court upheld the Greens' case, ruling that the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) protects the Greens from having to adjust their insurance plans to cover contraception for their 13,000 employees. (RFRA says the government must have a compelling reason to infringe upon an individual's religious beliefs, and that laws that do so must be narrowly tailored.)
The case is novel because religious freedom, enshrined in the First Amendment, typically has been thought to apply to individuals, churches and other religious nonprofits-not corporations. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, siding with Hobby Lobby, said the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision in 2010 , which upheld a free-speech right for corporations, conferred a right to religious expression on businesses.
The 19 senators-all of whom voted for the popular RFRA in 1993-argue that the law's religious protections were never intended apply to a for-profit company. Hobby Lobby's "gross misapplication" of the law perverts Congress' intent in passing it, they write in the brief, which was obtained by Yahoo News.
Congress intended RFRA to protect individuals and non-profits from government interference in their religious beliefs, and explicitly left out for-profit companies from its protection, they write. The Democratic senators argue that a decision in favor of Hobby Lobby would allow "a secular, for-profit corporations' shareholders, through the corporation, to impose their religious beliefs on their employees and to deny employees health benefits and rights to which they are entitled."
The case, which the Supreme Court will consider on March 25 and likely decide by June, is just one front in a widening war between Democrats and Republicans over gender and reproductive issues. Democrats have seized upon Republican opposition to the contraceptive mandate as proof that Republicans are waging a "war on women." Some Republicans, meanwhile, say the mandate panders to women, as well as infringes on employers' religious liberty. Just last week, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee told a cheering audience at a Republican National Committee meeting that Democrats "insult the women of America" with the mandate, which he said suggested the government thinks women "cannot control their libido."
The Democrat's argument that companies would try to "impose their religious beliefs" on their employees is ironic, indeed. Isn't that what the government is trying to do by stuffing the contraception mandate down the throats of Christians?
People have a choice of whether they want to work for Hobby Lobby or not. If they want coverage for contraceptives, they can go work at a company that features that benefit. The mandate gives Christians no choice whatsoever, and reaches into the most personal area of religious beliefs.
The court watchers I have read have no idea how this case will play out. It's possible SCOTUS will draw a very narrow definition of "corporation," giving relief to Hobby Lobby and a few others, but leaving the mandate intact for most American businesses. And, of course, it's possible the court will uphold or strike down the lower court's decisions.
Whatever happens, the decision will have far reaching consequences for freedom far into the future.