Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby

Alicia Singer

Hobby Lobby is suing U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, for a religious exemption to the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) “contraceptive mandate,” which states that companies must make access to birth control available through their health insurance programs.

CEO David Green runs Hobby Lobby with his wife and children according to evangelical Christian principles, including the belief that “life starts at conception.” It is on this basis that they object to four kinds of contraception.

Plan B Pill
Plan B Pill

The company already covers 16 of the 20 forms of contraception that the ACA requires. The Green family objects to Plan B One-Step, Ella (another emergency or “morning after” contraceptive) and two kinds of intrauterine devices (IUDs), which they believe are “abortifacients,” or abortion-causing drugs.

Emergency contraceptives and IUDs generally work like regular birth control: they prevent sperm from fertilizing an egg. As with any form of birth control, there is still a small percent chance of failure, which means that an egg could still be fertilized. In this case, these types of contraceptives also attempt to prevent the egg from attaching to the womb.

Recently, reports have surfaced that the company’s 401(k) retirement plan has invested $73 million in pharmaceutical companies that make emergency contraceptives and IUDs, as well as drugs that are made to induce an abortion.

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether or not a for-profit business can opt out of providing birth control under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), which states that the government “shall not substantially burden a person’s freedom of religion.”

In addition to seeking a religious exemption to the law, Hobby Lobby may exercise another option within current law. The ACA allows companies to opt out and discontinue its health care program and pay a tax of $2,000 per employee. Between the 16,000 full-time employees and the 12,000 part-time/seasonal employees, that would come out to $56 million. This would be a substantial burden to put on someone, but the Hobby Lobby is not a person, it is a corporation.

Courts have been hearing cases for “corporate personhood,” or the belief that businesses deserve the same rights as people, since 1819. According to the Supreme Court’s January 2010 ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, contributing money to politicians and political action campaigns is free speech, and a corporation is entitled to the same First Amendment rights as anyone else.

Hobby Lobby is using the Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission ruling to argue their case. If a corporation is entitled to free speech under the First Amendment, then freedom of religion could be next.

The RFRA was created to protect people, particularly members of minority religions, from religious discrimination. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the Hobby Lobby, it could create unfavorable working situations for people who practice a different religion than their employers.

The precedent of such a ruling could also lead to discrimination of potential employees based on; race, sex, sexuality, lowered wages, forced prayer breaks at work, unpaid religious holidays, or any number of things that a company may claim are either required or forbidden by its religion.

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Hobby Lobby, giving it the same freedoms of a person, what will happen if an employee’s religious values conflict with a company’s views? There is more to this discussion than whether Hobby Lobby will win or lose; this could change the rights of employees throughout the nation.