The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday in perhaps its highest profile case of the year.
Last year, the craft store chain Hobby Lobby challenged the Obamacare requirement that the company pay for employee health insurance coverage of certain birth control.
Hobby Lobby could have been fined — or taxed, as the court has already decided to call it — more than $1 million a day if it did not provide contraception coverage. That coverage was required to include the morning after pill.
The company is a privately held corporation, still run by founder David Green and his family. The owners require the stores be closed on Sunday in accordance with their Christian convictions. "Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with biblical principles," is part of Hobby Lobby's mission statement.
The Greens have no problem with birth control pills, but claimed that providing coverage for the morning after pill and other such drugs and devices is a violation of their religious freedom.
Three years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that corporations, along with labor unions and other associations, had the First Amendment right to spend money in support of, or opposition to, political candidates.
But the First Amendment also guarantees religious freedom. The question before the court was whether that freedom applied to businesses as well.
The company had already won its case in federal court. The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that Hobby Lobby and other privately held corporations had the same religious rights as their owners and could sue over the Obamacare requirements. The Obama administration appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court.
The Justices in a 5-4 decision ruled that closely-held corporations like Hobby Lobby and a much smaller family owned firm named Conestoga Wood Specialties, which also challenged the law, cannot be forced to pay for contraceptives that interfere with conception after sex.
Associate Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, cited the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act and said the government could only infringe on the religious beliefs of owners of closely held businesses in the least intrusive manner.
"Protecting the free-exercise rights of closely held corporations thus protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them," he wrote.
The opinion noted there were other means to provide the contraceptives in question without involving the companies.
"The most straightforward way of doing this would be for the Government to assume the cost of providing the four contraceptives at issue to any women who are unable to obtain them under their health-insurance policies due to their employers' religious objections," he wrote.
Writing in dissent, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the court had just opened the door for business owners to make religious objections to just about any law out there.
Alito was insistent that the court's decision applied solely to the question at hand.
We agree with the majority's decision, but we share Ginsburg's uncertainty of what the future might bring. There are a lot of religions out there with a lot of different beliefs. And some of those beliefs are pretty far out of the mainstream.
This decision may apply only to contraception and Obamacare, but we would bet dollars to donuts it will spur thousands of lawsuits down the road.
Copyright Texarkana (Ark.) Gazette. Distributed by the Associated Press.