The Hobby Lobby Case Summarized

j0321176There have been many reactions to the recent Supreme Court decision in the “Hobby Lobby case”; and many reactions are emotional responses that are not guided by the actual facts. In particular, people are objecting to large corporations wholly refusing contraception to their employees. The facts are less dramatic, but they make all the difference. let’s consider them.

To begin with, the “Hobby Lobby case” is not just one case, but three. The three cases involve Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood Specialties and Mardel Christian and Educational Supply. Conestoga is a maker of wood cabinet, doors, and miscellaneous wood products located in Pennsylvania. Mardel is a supplier of Christian books, Bibles, education materials and miscellaneous merchandise. Of course, everyone knows what Hobby Lobby is. Hobby Lobby is the largest corporation of the three.

There is something else all three corporations have in common. They are all family-owned, closely-help corporations. That means the stock is restricted and cannot be sold outside the family, typically, without giving the other family members/shareholders a right to purchase the stock first. They are not publicly traded corporations. Conestoga Wood is owned by the Hahn’s, a very devout, Mennonite family founded by two brothers in 1964 put of one of their garages.

Mardel was founded by Mart Green, the son of David Green, the founder of Hobby Lobby. The elder Green borrowed $600 in 1970 and began assembling and selling miniature picture frames and opened his first retail store in 1972. He was the son of an Assemblies of God preacher, and he built his business on biblical principles.

The Affordable Care Act mandates that 20 different contraceptives must be covered by employer provided insurance. The three companies objected to four of the options on the basis that those four have the effect of preventing an already fertilized egg from developing any further by inhibiting its attachment to the uterus. The belief is that, once an egg is fertilized, a life has begun, and the use of those options, therefore, effectively cause an abortion. The objection of these companies was very specific and focused on only four of the twenty other contraception options. Thus, if these companies were allowed to opt out of the four, sixteen other contraceptive options would still be covered.

The Affordable Care Act allows nonprofit, religious organizations to be exempted from the mandate. The owners of the three, family-owned businesses were found to have sincere, long held, religious beliefs that life begins at conception, and that subsidizing contraceptive options that cause that conceived life to end is a violation of those sincere, long held beliefs.

The Supreme Court decision applies only to closely held corporations. Non-profit corporations are already afforded the exemption based on religious beliefs. The Court found no reason to treat for profit corporations, especially ones that are family-owned and operated according to sincerely and long held religious beliefs, any differently. The Court found that the mandate substantially burdened the free exercise of religion (a First Amendment right) because:

“It requires the Hahns and the Greens to engage in conduct that seriously violates their sincere religious belief that life begins at conception. If they and their companies refuse to provide contraceptive coverage, they face severe economic consequences: about $475 million per year for Hobby Lobby, $33 million per year for Conestoga, and $15 million per year for Mardel.”

The fact that these families do business as corporations does not negate the owners’ right to the free exercise of religion. The corporate structure does not strip away those rights.

In addition, the government did not show that its mandate is the least restrictive means of accomplishing its goal of providing all the contraceptive options to people who want them. When a law impacts a fundamental right, it will only be upheld if there is no other way to accomplish the goal with less impact on those rights. The Court notes that the government could subsidize the four contraceptive options for employees of these organizations, or they could extend the exemption to them as was done for non-profit, religious corporations. Thus, the mandate was not the least restrictive means.

Finally, the decision applies only to the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act. It does not apply, as some are saying, to vaccinations, blood transfusions and other things. It also does not allow businesses to discriminate illegally under the guise of religious practice.

There is much misinformation out there, and many people are reacting emotionally to that misinformation. Even when the true facts are known, people are likely and will, undoubtedly, disagree over the verdict. It remains, however, that the free exercise of religion is a First Amendment right, like the freedom from religion, the freedom of assembly and the freedom of speech. These freedoms are part of the fabric of our country. They allow people to do things that other people do not like and may even find offensive, but they are freedoms that allow us all to follow our consciences without governmental interference.

The freedoms we enjoy allow some people to obtain contraceptives that others would not, in good conscience provide; and those same freedoms allow others not to provide those things that violate their consciences.

If you want to read the whole case, including the dissenting opinions, you can find it at Burrell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

6 thoughts on “The Hobby Lobby Case Summarized

  1. Excellent synopsis of the opinion! I would “share” this on my FaceBook wall, but I fear a backlash as this seems to be a very touchy subject, and I feel that nowadays too much rests on the policy effects of SCOTUS decisions while little attention is paid to the actual legal framework (i.e. strict scrutiny review, what it means to be a ‘fundamental’ right, etc.).


  2. Reblogged this on Perspective and commented:

    The storm of comments have died down, but they have not gone away. What will the ramifications of this opinion be? Will it be like the case of the Amish family in Wisconsin (Yoder) who insisted their children stay home from school after 8th grade? The Yoder case has been distinguished much more often than followed? In laymen’s parlance, that means it has been largely ignored as precedent. Or will it be like Roe v. Wade that marks an historic and seismic shift in jurisprudence and social construct? Time will tell, but it has certainly caused quite a stir in the meantime.


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