Anyone will tell you there are two topics you don’t bring up in polite conversation: religion and politics. So it’s perhaps not surprising that one of the most hotly debated cases of the current Supreme Court session stands at the crossroads of both.
In an opinion (PDF) handed down on June 30, the Supreme Court of the United States weighed in on governments’ ability to require that companies provide coverage for birth control under the Affordable Care Act, and in a 5-4 decision split along the conservative majority, the Court ruled the government was out of bounds in attempting to enforce such a rule.
The case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. tasked the court with deciding whether or not the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), could allow the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to require three corporations to provide health insurance coverage for contraceptive methods that violated the religious beliefs of the companies’ owners.
In the opinion, which was delivered by Justice Alito, the Court said, “We hold that the regulations that impose this obligation violate RFRA, which prohibits the Federal Government from taking any action that substantially burdens the exercise of religion unless the action constitutes the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest.”
The limited decision is not expected to allow for other types of religious-exemption claims, but it is seen as a clear win for the companies who raised the concerns.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the dissenting opinion said that RFRA was not intended to cover for-profit corporations, stating that the court had never granted those types of corporation’s religious exemption for complying with the law.
“The reason why is hardly obscure,” Ginsburg said in the opinion. “Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community. Indeed, by law, no religion-based criterion can restrict the work force of for-profit corporations.”
Though this round goes to those defending the RFRA as a constant theme in this country, the debate over religious freedom, healthcare, contraception and governmental control is omnipresent.