Closely held corporations (such as the family-owned Hobby Lobby) are not required to provide birth control for employees if it goes against sincerely held religious belief, according to Monday’s Supreme Court ruling.
The ruling has met with controversy. Some believe that this is a victory for religious freedom, while others argue that it instead allows employers to force religion on their employees.
"Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith,” Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the dissent, as quoted by Mother Jones. “Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community."
The idea is that while a corporation may disagree with the use of contraceptives, its employees should not be forced to adhere to the same standards.
“Freedom of religion explicitly includes not only the freedom to practice one's religion but to be free from the imposition of someone else's religion,” wrote Sally Kohn of The Daily Beast. “The owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cannot be allowed to impose their religious beliefs on their employees.”
As well as imposing religion on workers, many fear that the ruling is a step backwards for women’s rights.
“I disagree with the reasoning as well as the conclusion,” Hillary Clinton told the Atlantic of the Hobby Lobby ruling. “I find it deeply disturbing.”
Clinton compared women’s lack of access to contraceptives to methods adapted by countries around the world without women’s rights. A societal obsession with female bodies, she said, is “a disturbing trend that you see in a lot of societies that are unstable, anti-democratic, and prone to extremism.”
“Many more companies will claim religious beliefs,” she continued, outlining the consequences of the ruling. “Some will be sincere, others maybe not. We’re going to see this one insurable service cut out for many women. This is a really bad, slippery slope.”
Others argue that the company is within its rights, especially as Hobby Lobby does provide “16 of the 20 contraceptives required under the HHS mandate,” according to Dr. Robert Jeffress of Fox News.
The four contraceptives that the company does not provide are those that prevent an already fertilized egg from developing further, which the company views as an abortion and against its religious views.
“There is no claim that Hobby Lobby has attempted to prevent women from exercising their constitutional right to obtain abortions,” wrote Jeffress. “The company just didn’t want to have to pay for them.”
“The religious persuasion of the owners of Hobby Lobby that abortion is the taking of innocent life is not some fringe belief embraced by a handful of extremists but is a deeply held spiritual conviction of tens of millions of Americans,” Jeffress continued.
“Monday, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the right of those Americans to both hold and live by that conviction.”
“This is a landmark decision for religious freedom,” according to Lori Windham, counsel for Hobby Lobby, quoted by the Becket Fund. “The Supreme Court recognized that Americans do not lose their religious freedom when they run a family business.”
Some have argued that this ruling is designed to protect only Christians, but Windham disagrees.
“This ruling will protect people of all faiths,” she wrote. “The Court’s reasoning was clear, and it should have been clear to the government. You can’t argue there are no alternative means when your agency is busy creating alternative means for other people.”
Others believe that the case is much more delicate than it has been given credit for.
“Among the reasons the United States is so open, so tolerant, and so free is that no person may be restricted or demeaned by government in exercising his or her religion,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy, as quoted by the Atlantic. “Yet neither may that same exercise unduly restrict other persons, such as employees, in protecting their own interests, interests the law deems compelling.”
“In other words, nobody gets to be ‘right’ in this case,” translated Emma Green of the Atlantic. “No one's religious beliefs can trample someone else's health needs, and even if the government can't force closely held private companies to pay for contraceptives, these companies can't stop their employees from being on birth control. Hobby Lobby is a balancing act, not a bludgeon.”
Jonathan Rauch of the Brookings Institution agreed that these results are not as definitive as people believe.
“It’s important to remember that this is the interpretation of the statute—the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act — not the Constitution,” he wrote. “This decision just interprets the statute, which could change. So this is going to open the discussion about what the policy should actually be, and what kind of law Congress should write about it.
“The bottom line is nobody should hyperventilate about this ruling. It’s the beginning of a conversation about where to draw these lines, not the end of a conversation.”
Bethan Owen is a writer for the Deseret News Moneywise and Opinion sections. Twitter: BethanO2