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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 29 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 48
Supreme Court rejoins Obamacare debate - Justices will decide if private businesses can deny contraceptive coveragerance
Section One
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Supreme Court rejoins Obamacare debate - Justices will decide if private businesses can deny contraceptive coverage

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The U.S. Supreme Court has accepted review of a key part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the section mandating that employers provide coverage for contraceptives in the insurance plans they offer to employees.

The U.S. Department of Justice, representing the Obama administration in the case, asked the court to review a challenge by the retail chain Hobby Lobby to the president's sig-nature Affordable Care Act. Hobby Lobby, a closely held corporation owned by the Green family of Oklahoma City, alleges that the requirement to provide the so-called 'morning-after pill' oral contracep-tive violates its religious scruples.

The company prides itself on its strong conservative Christian beliefs. Hobby Lobby does not sell collectible shot glasses, for example, because its owners do not approve of drinking alcohol. They also refuse to stock Hanukkah supplies.

Hobby Lobby attorneys claim a 1993 law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, protects the company from the ACA mandate to provide contraceptives.

The Tenth U.S. Circuit Court agreed with Hobby Lobby, saying that corporations enjoy First Amendment protections just as much as individuals do. The Circuit Court cited the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision to support its ruling.

In Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations enjoy First Amendment free speech rights, and therefore cannot be bound by most campaign financing restric-tions.

THIRD CIRCUIT DISAGREES
In another case, which will also be reviewed by the Supreme Court, a furniture company owned by Mennonites refused to provide contraceptive coverage to its employees. In this case, however, the Third Circuit Court ruled that the company did not have a right to ignore the ACA.

The fact that two different appeals courts reached two different conclusions made Supreme Court review of the cases almost certain, legal observers said.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, there are more than 40 active cases 'in which a for-profit business argues that it should not have to comply with the federal rule on the grounds that it violates the religious beliefs of the business and its owners. There are additional cases brought by nonprofit organizations challenging the rule as well.'

'Everyone has a right to their religious beliefs, but religious freedom does not include the right to impose your beliefs on others,' said Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the ACLU. 'It does not mean that businesses can refuse to comply with the law based on their religious beliefs, particularly where that means discriminating against their employees.'

White House spokesperson Jay Carney defended the ACA in a press briefing after the Supreme Court announced its decision to hear the Hobby Lobby case.

'The President believes that no one, including the government or for-profit corporations, should be able to dictate those decisions to women,' Carney said.

'The Administration has already acted to ensure no church or similar religious institution will be forced to provide contraception coverage and has made a commonsense ac-commodation for nonprofit religious organizations that object to contraception on religious grounds. These steps protect both women's health and religious beliefs, and seek to ensure that women and families - not their bosses or corporate CEOs - can make personal health decisions based on their needs and their budgets.'

RELIGIOUS RIGHT BACKING
Hobby Lobby is represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit with a long history of defending religious clients against regulations enacted by all levels of government.

'This [Supreme Court review] is a major step for the Greens and their family businesses in an important fight for Americans' religious liberty,' said Kyle Duncan, general coun-sel of the Becket Fund and lead attorney for Hobby Lobby. 'We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will clarify once and for all that religious freedom in our country should be protected for family business owners like the Greens.'

David Green, the founder and CEO of Hobby Lobby, said that his 'legal challenge has always remained about one thing and one thing only - the right of our family businesses to live out our sincere and deeply held religious convictions as guaranteed by the law and the Constitution. Business owners should not have to choose between violating their faith and violating the law.'

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt says he agrees with Green.

'The State of Oklahoma has supported Hobby Lobby and the Green family by filing an amicus brief in support of their lawsuit, and we will continue to support them as the Su-preme Court reviews this case,' he said.

The Supreme Court will probably rule in the case before the end of its current term in the summer of 2014.

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