Until fairly recently Hobby Lobby was best known as a regional arts and crafts chain with headquarters in Oklahoma. However, the company has burst onto the national stage because of its Supreme Court battle concerning certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
The case in question is Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stories, Inc. and the issue currently being debated is the following: “Whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000bb et seq., which provides that the government ‘shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion’ unless that burden is the least restrictive means to further a compelling governmental interest, allows a for-profit corporation to deny its employees the health coverage of contraceptives to which the employees are otherwise entitled by federal law, based on the religious objections of the corporation’s owners.”
In layman’s terms, the owners of Hobby Lobby are, as NPR reports, “The owners are conservative Christians who object to certain methods of birth control — IUDs and morning-after pills — because they can interfere with the creation of life once an egg is fertilized.” Thus, they object to the part of the ACA that would demand that they provide contraceptive coverage, as it is against their religion.
The government has fired back at these claims, countering that it is not issue of religious freedom but one of discrimination. First, employers reject health care laws on the basis on religion and this may be a slippery slope towards other forms of bias. Perhaps an employer’s religion casts doubt on the morality of serving particular racial or ethnic groups or other religions. The ramifications are potentially devastating.
Last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the case. Scotusblog.com reports “Several Justices also expressed doubt about whether, even if a corporation can exercise religion for purposes of RFRA, the government has a compelling interest in requiring corporations like Hobby Lobby to provide insurance that includes access to free birth control or the mandate is the narrowest possible way to do so. On the first point, the Justices emphasized that the government has, for a variety of reasons, declined to require other employers – including churches and religious non-profits but also for-profit companies whose health insurance plans are grandfathered in – to comply with the mandate, thereby undermining the government’s argument regarding the mandate’s importance. And on the second, Justice Antonin Scalia suggested that it wouldn’t be ‘terribly expensive’ for the government, rather than the employers, to pay for the four forms of birth control at issue in this case.”
What does it mean for the ACA if Hobby Lobby wins their case? RH Reality Check reports that a win for Hobby Lobby would simply be “an opportunity to greatly increase corporate protections from government regulation, [and] strike another critical but not immediately lethal blow to health-care reform, and do so under the guise of protecting ‘religious liberty.’” However, even if Hobby Lobby loses, rest assured that further challenges to the foundation of the ACA loom on the horizon.