The North American Division of the SDA Church said today that it was “encouraged” by the US Supreme Court’s ruling for Hobby Lobby. In the 5-4 decision, the Court decided that the for-profit, family-owned (“closely held”) corporation does not have to offer female employees all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives, as the Affordable Health Care mandates.
Essentially, it found that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993 applies not only to individuals, but also to corporations.
Hobby Lobby, along with another company, Conestoga Wood Specialties, had filed suit over the federal health law's contraception coverage requirements, arguing that several types of contraceptives violate their owners' religious beliefs. (The Green family, who own Hobby Lobby, describe themselves as “committed evangelical Christians.” The owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties are Mennonites.)
Dissenting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called it "a decision of startling breadth."
This was the first case in the country's history in which a commercial enterprise has won a right based on religious beliefs to be exempt from regulations that govern for-profit corporations.
In a statement, the NAD said that today’s decision “reaffirmed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which safeguards the broad religious liberty protections available to all people of faith.”
The NAD statement went on to say:
The Seventh-day Adventist Church, in its Fundamental Beliefs and teachings as based on the Bible, does not object to providing the methods of contraception at issue (see Official Seventh-day Adventist Church Statement on Birth Control), and has fully complied with this provision of the AHA for its U.S. based employees.
However, the Adventist Church has a long history of defending religious freedom not just for itself but all people of faith. The balancing of interest will always be a difficult task. Further, the Church is concerned that the weakening of religious liberty rights for any group threatens the rights of all people of faith. The Adventist Church believes that while the provision of contraception is an important goal of the ACA, it is one the government can reach without forcing family held companies to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.
The forms of contraception that Hobby Lobby objected to providing in its employee health plan included emergency contraceptives that can prevent pregnancy if taken within a short window after unprotected sex. It contended that these contraceptives are a type of abortion.
Many other organizations have also reacted positively to the Supreme Court’s decision today. The CEO of EWTN Global Catholic Network, a broadcaster and media network (the world’s largest religious media network), which is also fighting a case in the courts against the health law’s contraception provisions, said "This has been a very good day for religious liberty in America. The Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case was a great affirmation of the constitutional right to freedom of religious expression.”
But is giving a for-profit corporation the right to hold religious beliefs the best way to safeguard religious liberty? Couldn’t that right come at the cost of the employees’ rights — even their religious beliefs?
This is what Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued in her dissent, quoting Justice Stevens saying in a 2010 case that corporations “have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires.”
She said: “The Court had recognized that churches and non-profits were still ‘shelter[ed]’ by the Free Exercise clause but that for-profit corporations were set up for a different purpose.”
Ginsburg said that a health plan that offers all FDA-approved contraceptive choices is not the same as handing an employee a pill. No employee would be forced to use any type of contraception at all — the woman makes the choice herself with her physician and is never required or pressured to act against her conscience.
While the NAD said it was “encouraged” by the ruling, other advocates of religious liberty strongly disagree.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a religious liberty watchdog group established in 1947, called the decision “a blow to individual conscience and medical privacy rights.” “This decision is a double-edged disaster,” said the group’s executive director Barry Lynn. “It conjures up fake religious freedom rights for corporations while being blind to the importance of birth control to America’s working women.” "The justices have set a dangerous precedent. While the Obama administration may arrange for the government to provide contraceptives, a future administration could easily take that away. In years to come, many women may find their access to birth control hanging by a thread.”
In his article about today’s US Supreme Court decision, lawyer Michael Peabody of ReligiousLiberty.tv, said: "The Court granted Hobby Lobby and all for-profit corporate owners an unprecedented amount of power that will make it much easier for them to make religiously-based decisions that adversely affect those employees who do not share their beliefs."
Peabody offers the following hypothetical scenario:
Let’s say that the evangelical Christian owners of a closely-held for-profit corporation decide that in order to secure the blessings of God on the corporation, they must limit the effect of competing religious influences and decide to take steps to terminate the employment or refuse to hire those who do not share their particular religious beliefs. Would the corporate owners be able to defend themselves using today’s decision in Hobby Lobby? Will there now be a hierarchy of belief between corporate owners and their employees, and if the employees’ concerns are merely secular, will the owners always win?
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6084