Hobson’s Choice: For-Profit Corporations and the Exercise of Religion

Source: Heidi Muller, Wake Forest University Legal Studies Paper No. 2410674, November 17, 2013

From the abstract:
Hobby Lobby, Inc. brought an action against the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius to obtain declaratory and injunctive relief regarding regulations in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Hobby Lobby, Inc. is a privately held, non-profit, secular organization with well over 50 employees (latest estimate at 21,000). The Affordable Care Act regulations required employer-sponsored health plans to provide contraceptive coverage. Hobby Lobby, Inc. claimed the mandated coverage violated the company’s constitutional and statutory protections of religious freedom, mainly the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma denied plaintiff’s motion for injunction and declaratory relief. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the judgment for consideration of preliminary injunction factors.

Issue: Does the contraception mandate (or subsequent tax penalty) in the Affordable Care Act violate Hobby Lobby’s freedom of religion?

Status: The case was remanded to the district court level where the injunction was granted that allowed Hobby Lobby to not provide contraceptives to it’s employees or face the tax penalty. The Supreme Court has since granted cert and the case was combined with Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sec’y of the United States HHS. It will be decided Summer 2014.

Focus of analysis: It’s my view that this case will be the start of a string of cases challenging this specific mandate in the Affordable Care Act. Previously, there were exceptions for small businesses (less than 50 employees), non-profits, or company’s with a religious purpose. With the injunction granted to Hobby Lobby more companies looking to avoid contraceptive coverage or a tax penalty will attempt to use a religious exemption under the 1st Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Hobby Lobby, Inc. is an arts and crafts store. Hobby Lobby may be run according to loose religious rules, but the fact is that like many companies in America the only religious aspect of this corporation are its owners. My analysis will conclude by stating that such companies should not be allowed to use the exceptions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to deny employees access and coverage to contraceptives.

Reasons why this topic is relevant: As more and more of the Affordable Care Act is put into practice, cases such as Hobby Lobby, Inc. v. Sebelius will be filed. Companies do not want the additional economic burden of providing contraceptives in their health care plans and will use religion to attempt to create loopholes in the law to save money. This is simply bad policy. With limited access to contraceptives more people will need care for for STD’s, pre-natal care, abortions, c-sections, post-natal care, and companies will have to provide maternity leave, thus costing the taxpayer and the company more money in the long run.