Supreme Court rules for Hobby Lobby on birth control mandate

By TRESA BALDAS and J.C. REINDL

Detroit Free Press

(MCT) — In a landmark decision that pits women’s health care rights against religious freedom, the U.S. Supreme Court Monday sided with the latter, ruling that family businesses cannot be forced to pay for birth control for their employees if they are opposed to doing so on religious grounds.

The 5-4 ruling, which applies only to “closely held corporations,” triggered a tsunami of emotions from both sides of the debate, with religious groups calling it a long-overdue victory, while women’s rights groups blasted the decision.

“Today, the Supreme Court dealt a blow to women’s health. For the first time, the court has given some bosses the right to allow their religious beliefs to trump the health needs of their employees,” Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, said of the ruling. “Corporations will now have a license to harm their female employees in the name of religion. … Bosses should stick to what they know best — the board room and the bottom line — and stay out of the bedroom and doctors’ offices.”

Religious business owners, however, hailed the decision as a much-needed boost to those who believe they should be allowed to run their companies as they see fit and not be forced to pay for medicine or devices that to which they are morally opposed.

“This is a landmark decision for religious freedom. The Supreme Court recognized that Americans do not lose their religious freedom when they run a family business,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who represented one of the key players in this case: Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., an arts-and-crafts retailer that challenged certain Obamacare mandates on religious grounds.

The decision, meanwhile, could impact dozens of similar lawsuits pending nationwide, including two Michigan cases: one of them involving Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan; the other involving John Kennedy, a Catholic business owner from western Michigan who last year lost a similar lawsuit before the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Kennedy, president and CEO of Kentwood-based Autocam near Grand Rapids, a maker of auto and medical industry parts, considers artificial contraception immoral. He is opposed to having to pay for birth control for his employees via the company’s health insurance.

As a result of Monday’s Hobby Lobby ruling, the Appeals Court could decide to take up the Autocam case or send it back to the lower federal court.

“We are deeply grateful that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of those business owners whose sincerely held religious beliefs prohibit them from complying with the HHS Mandate,” Kennedy said in a released statement. “Based on today’s decision and the compelling facts in our case, we trust that we will be permitted to conduct business in a manner that is true to our sincerely held religious beliefs.”

The ruling also is expected to bolster Monaghan’s case. The Catholic pizza tycoon opposes contraception coverage for employees at his Ann Arbor Domino’s Farms property management company. The Monaghan case also is pending in the Sixth Circuit.

“The ruling is extremely favorable,” said Monaghan’s attorney, Erin Mersino, of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor.

Monday’s landmark decision involves two Christian-owned family businesses that had challenged a provision of President Barack Obama’s health care law, claiming it unlawfully required them to pay for contraception insurance, or face hefty fines of up to $1.3 million a day. Hobby Lobby, along with a Pennsylvania-based cabinet wood maker, believe that some contraceptives “end human life after conception,” so they shouldn’t be forced to offer it on religious grounds.

The U.S. Supreme Court, citing a 1993 religious freedom law, agreed, granting them exemption from the so-called Obamacare contraception mandate.

“Today the nation’s highest court has re-affirmed the vital importance of religious liberty as one of our country’s founding principles. The court’s decision is a victory, not just for our family business, but for all who seek to live out their faith,” Hobby Lobby co-owner Barbara Green said in a statement following this morning’s ruling. “We are grateful to God and to those who have supported us on this difficult journey.”

 

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Posted by Tribune News Services