Taylor L. Turner
On March 25th, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments for the controversial Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby case. In 1970, the Green family opened the first Hobby Lobby store in Oklahoma City. Since its founding, the store has developed into a nationwide chain that employs more than 13,000 full-time workers in over 500 stores. The Greens now await the Supreme Court’s decision on whether the Affordable Care Act’s requirement for the chain to provide four FDA approved contraceptives as part of their health insurance package is constitutional.
While the Greens do not object to covering 16 out of the 20 contraceptive methods approved by the FDA, they find the four contraceptives in question as religiously objectionable due to the their ability to “prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg.” As a penalty for not providing the contraceptives in their plan, the Greens could face nearly $475 million in fines per year. The Greens argue that their decision to deny the coverage of these four contraceptives is protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993. This act prevents the government from burdening the religious beliefs of an individual unless the government can prove that the burden is of a “compelling government interest” and is the “least restrictive means” of achieving this interest.
The case’s argument builds on the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision where corporations were determined to be “persons” under the law and therefore entitled to the right of freedom of expression. The question in debate over the Hobby Lobby case is whether for-profit corporations are entitled to freedom of religion as well. Because non-profit corporations have been given accommodations to providing these contraceptives, the Greens argue that they have the right to an exemption as a for-profit corporation.
Opponents of the Greens, however, believe that the RFRA does not extend free exercise rights to for-profit corporations. In addition, opponents argue that the Greens are unable, as individuals, to demonstrate a substantial burden on their religious beliefs caused by the mandate. The Supreme Court is not expected to have ruling on Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby until the summer.