Editorial: Hobby Lobby religious exemption litigation sets dire precedent
On Tuesday, the United States Supreme Court will hear a case brought up by David Green, founder of the predominantly non-religious arts and crafts retail franchise Hobby Lobby, in which Green contends that Hobby Lobby should be immune from subsidizing its employees' contraceptive costs (as mandated by the Affordable Care Act) because he considers the law a violation of his corporation's religious convictions. The contraceptives in question are Plan B, Ella and some specific brands of intrauterine devices, which Green believes his for-profit corporation has the religious right to be exempt from paying for under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Hobby Lobby was initially made aware of their healthcare obligations under Obamacare by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington D.C. based non-profit, which explained that Hobby Lobby was responsible for subsidizing its 28,000 employees' emergency contraceptive costs because the company had changed its healthcare policy after the law's ratification. Green, along with his four family members who own the 560-store chain, argue that because the company maintains an entire building for Christian services at its headquarters and donates a significant portion of its approximately $3.3 billion in annual sales to religious-oriented philanthropy, the corporation itself is therefore a religious entity entitled to immunity from laws that violate its beliefs.
In November 2012, the federal U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma ruled that for-profit corporations are not entitled to religious freedoms and that the owners were too far removed from the actual contraceptive purchases to experience an excessive burden. Hobby Lobby won at the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver after the court invoked the US Supreme Court's 2010 decision "Citizens United v. FEC," a landmark case that provided for-profit corporations with religious freedoms and rights to free speech-specifically to eliminate campaign finance limits.
The US Supreme Court will have to rule upon one of the consequences of the Pandora's Box that is "Citizens United" and decide whether or not non-living, profit-maximizing conceptual entities like Hobby Lobby are capable of exercising religious liberties at the expense of healthcare obligations legislated for the betterment of actual human beings. Should Hobby Lobby lose, it must decide between paying a $1.6 million daily fine for incomplete coverage, an annual fine of $26 million for dropping its healthcare plan altogether, or simply provide emergency contraceptives to its employees, a portion of who do not share its owners' religious beliefs. In the event that Hobby Lobby wins, the legal precedent will provide a boon to non-profit institutions, such as the University of Notre Dame and the Little Sisters of the Poor, in similar litigation.
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