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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Highlights from US Supreme Court opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

Yesterday the Supreme Court issued a ruling upholding religious liberty, holding that the Obama administration's coercive contraceptives mandate violated the free exercise of religion. A few highlights follow; key excerpted quotations from the Court's opinion can be found here.

Key points and principles held by the Court:

1.      The Obama administration violated federal law--the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)--by substantially burdening the free exercise of religion without taking the least restrictive means of accomplishing its purpose of distributing free contraceptives. The Government easily could have assumed the cost of contraceptives to employees of objecting employers.
2.      The substantial burden on faith-based family businesses included heavy fines (over half a billion dollars imposed on three companies alone) and forcing a choice between conscience or dropping healthcare for employees.
3.      The decision is narrow, applying to the contraceptive mandate and to closely held companies (not to publicly traded corporations), and should not be seen as a license for discrimination.
4.      The job of the court is not to assess the reasonableness of a religious objection, but simply to determine whether or not it is sincere.
5.      The administration's position reveals that it views religious freedom as less important than Congress considers it.
6.      The Obama administration's position would allow forcing religious objectors to participate in any medical procedure allowed by law—including third-trimester abortions or assisted suicide.
7.      The job of the Court is not to assess the wisdom of Congress but to enforce the law (RFRA) as written.

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