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Supreme Court on Hobby Lobby: 5 Things You Should Know

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. | Last updated on

The U.S. Supreme Court waited until the final day of its 2013 Term to rule on what was for many the year's most anticipated case: Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, involving Obamacare's birth-control mandate.

In a 5-4 opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, the Court ruled that certain private companies can object to Obamacare's mandate that they provide coverage for birth control through their employee health insurance plans, Reuters reports.

Want to know more? Here are five key points from the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision:

  1. Hobby Lobby was just one of three companies involved this case. Although Hobby Lobby, the chain of craft supply stores, was the namesake of this case, there were actually three petitioners. In addition to Hobby Lobby, the case included Mardel, a chain of Christian book stores owned by the same family as Hobby Lobby, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania furniture maker owned by a Mennonite family.
  2. What were the companies arguing? The companies in this case argued that being mandated to provide certain forms of birth control (particularly those they felt were abortifacients, or drugs that cause an abortion) violated their religious rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA), a 1993 law that limits the government's ability to burden the exercise of a person's religious beliefs.
  3. What was the government's response? The government argued that the companies in this case were corporations and thus were not subject to the protections afforded by the RFRA, which limits the government's ability to burden the exercise of a "person's" religious beliefs.
  4. What did the Court's majority find? In line with other recent Court decisions, the majority found that for purposes of the RFRA, closely held corporations were considered "persons" and were thus covered by its protections. Under the RFRA, any government burden on religious liberty must be done in the "least restrictive" way; the majority found that Obamacare's mandated private insurance contraception coverage was not the least restrictive means of providing contraception, and was therefore invalid.
  5. What did the dissent say? Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissent warns that the Court is "venturing into a minefield" of potential litigation in which other religious groups opposing portions of the Affordable Care Act will be seeking to have their beliefs accommodated in a similar way. Ginsburg -- who was joined by the Court's other two female justices, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan -- also notes that the decision "would deny legions of women who do not hold their employers' beliefs access to contraceptive coverage that the ACA would otherwise secure."

For more analysis of this case, check out FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court blog.

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