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What’s At Stake For Birth Control In Upcoming SCOTUS Decision

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Probably not. At the heart of the case is what the company owners believe, and no one doubts the sincerity of their views. At issue is whether the owners can exercise those religious objections via their corporations under a 1993 law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). It says the government may not impose a “substantial burden” on the free exercise of religion unless that burden is the narrowest possible way to further a compelling governmental interest.

The federal government and advocates for the mandate say that corporations cannot exercise religious rights, only individuals may.

The government’s brief in the case said Hobby Lobby and a subsidiary Christian book store, “for-profit corporations conducting commercial enterprises, are not persons exercising religion within the meaning of RFRA.”

What would happen if the court extended religious standing to for-profit corporations?

Lots of bad things, say those who are siding with the government in the case.

For example, said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, in health care alone, “Scientology-believing employers could insist upon non-coverage of its nemesis, psychiatry. And Jehovah’s’ Witness corporations could demand exclusion of surgical coverage, under the theory that so many of such procedures require the use of whole blood products, forbidden by their faith.”

The potential for using religion to escape the reach of federal law does not end with health, said Lynn. Corporations could also claim that they do not need to abide by equal pay laws “because of male dominance in their scriptural social order,” he said, or, for those who offer public accommodations, “you can hear them say we don’t believe marriage equality is biblical, so you, (gay and lesbian) travelers, cannot stay in our hotel or eat in our restaurant.”

Windham of the Becket Fund finds all those scenarios far-fetched. “We’ve had this law on the books for 25 years and none of those cases have happened,” she said.

During the arguments before the Supreme Court, Justice Samuel Alito said much the same thing. “In all the years RFRA has been on the books,” he asked, “has any of these claims involving minimum wage, for example, been brought and have they succeeded?”

“Very few of these claims have been brought,” responded Paul Clement, who argued Hobby Lobby’s case at the high court.

Justice Elena Kagan, however, said if the court upholds Hobby Lobby’s claim, that might change. “[T]hen you would see religious objectors come out of the woodwork with respect to these laws,” she said.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Fri, Jun 13 2014

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