Critical Thinking

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In the high profile case Sebelius
v. Hobby Lobby Stores, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby. The
ruling stated that for-profit corporations could claim religious exemption from
the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This Ruling is the first time the Supreme Court
has interpreted the definition of an individual defined under the Religious
Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). They ruled that a corporation that is 50% owned
by one person is considered an individual. The ruling of the Court was based on
the RFRA and while the Court did not address the protection provided to an
individual under the Free Exercise Clause as outlined in the First Amendment,
the Free Exercise Clause supports the overall ruling. The Free Exercise Clause
states that a law is prohibited from undue burden on the right to exercise
freedom of religion. By ruling that Hobby Lobby has the same rights as
guarantee by the constitution, they are interpreting the meaning behind the
RFRA as the Court is empowered to do. By defining Hobby Lobby as an individual,
they have allowed them the exemption from the ACA in regards to the birth
control mandate.

                The
ACA mandates that all companies’ insurance plans will provide full coverage including
controversial emergency contraceptives such as Plan
B (levonorgestrel), ella (ulipristal acetate), and copper
IUDs. These
birth controls can keep a fertilized egg from implanting, causing the egg to
abort. These birth controls are 89% to 95% effective, suggested as emergency
only contraceptives. The owners of Hobby Lobby felt that the emergency
contraceptives went against their religious beliefs and in good conscience
could not stand behind providing it. They are a family owned corporation and
have established their company on Christian values and beliefs. These values
include abstaining from contraceptives that cause abortions. This being said, they
have always provided a full health care coverage plan to their employees prior
to the ACA.

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 The Supreme Court
based their ruling on (RFRA). This act states:

Government shall
not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden
results from a rule of general applicability, except as provided in subsection
of this section. Exception are Government may substantially burden a person’s
exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to
the person is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and is the
least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest or
Judicial relief (Cornell University Law School).

The Supreme Court got this ruling right and the interpretation of the RFRA.
They upheld that the RFRA’s broad protection of freedom of religion encompasses
companies, which they define as persons.

 The RFRA was
passed in 1993 to protect all religious groups, in particular the Native
American’s. The Government’s laws and expansion on sacred land have burdened
their use of peyote and ritual ceremonies. 
The land that Native Americans worship on is extremely important, as their
ceremonies are very specific to sacred locations. This is guaranteed to us in
the First Amendment under the free exercise clause. It specifically states that
laws cannot be passed that will burden free exercise of religion. Unfortunately,
in the 80’s Courts where not protecting this clause and allowed legislation
that began to burden Native American’s religious rights. In 1990 Employment Division v. Smith the Court
rejected the test to assess Free Exercise claims. The federal ban on peyote was
upheld and the court stated that general laws might cause burden but not
actually violate the First Amendment. This outraged the public and many groups
came together to support the RFRA putting pressure on the courts to overturn federal
laws if they burden religion. The RFRA was used to challenge the courts
decisions and in the case of Employment
Division v. Smith the Court ruled that the use of peyote was legal and Smith
should not have been fired.

Legislation in Arizona, Missouri, Georgia, and Kansas have
similar bills that protect religious liberties for business owners to run their
business based on their religious beliefs. As a country, we should be able to
express our faith and allow that faith to flow through to our business endeavors.
For religious people who follow their beliefs it is a way of life. Religious
freedom is very important as it is one of the main reasons our fore fathers
came to this country to established their freedom from the King and his church.

                Exemptions
have been made for many companies in regards to the ACA. According to the
Supreme Court the US Department of Health (HHS) has exempted religious
employers such as churches from the contraceptive mandate. They have also
exempted religious non-profit organizations that have objected to providing
contraceptive services. However, the HHS denied this exemption for Hobby Lobby
due to their interpretation of Congress’s mandate. The HHS interpreted that
Congress did not mean for the RFRA to be extended to for-profit corporations. The
HHS surmised that large corporation’s religious beliefs couldn’t be
ascertained. Even though it is suggested in Gallagher
v. Crown Kosher Super Market of Mass., Inc that a for-profit corporation
has the right to exercise religion. Hobby Lobby was forced to take their
complaint to Court and eventually the Supreme Court. Hobby Lobby and their
family members have sincere Christen belief that believes life begins at
conception. They believe that facilitating access to these drugs or devices is in
violation their faith.  The Supreme Court
upheld the 10th Circuit decision, which ruled that Hobby Lobby’s
family corporation are persons under the RFRA. A great deal of money and time
would have been saved if the HHS had allowed the requested exemption for Hobby
Lobby in regards to this specific birth control.

This case has caused a great deal of political uproar as
each side heats up over the ruling. Some argue that a corporation is a legal
entity and not a person therefore not protected under the RFRA or Free Exercise
Clause. The ruling was clear and defined “All five conservative justices
appointed by Republican presidents ruled in favor of closely held for-profit
businesses those with at least 50% of stock held by five or fewer people, such
as family-owned businesses in which the owners have clear religious beliefs” (Mears,
Bill, Josh Levs, and Lisa Desjardins). Concerns have been expressed that this
ruling will cause other corporations to try and claim exemptions from other
federal laws based on religious beliefs. This argument is a post hoc fallacy as
it is saying if a corporation can be identified as a person, then every
corporation in the country will be using this case to get out of paying for
healthcare. Corporations may claim exemption, however, that is also assuming
that such companies will have the set ratio of ownership as well as a religious
precedent to gain an exemption. This argument over simplifies the ruling and
makes a hasty conclusion that the courts will not consider all the facts of such
claims. The Court needs to protect our freedom of religion in family own business,
as it is the foundation of our great country. If we forget that as a society we
may not have a country where faith can be expressed at all.

Even though, this is the first time the Supreme Court
has interpreted this federal statue under the RFRA, it is not the first time
that the Court has upheld freedom of religion in the work place. In the Sherbert v. Verner (1962) and Wisconsin v Yoder (1972) the courts
ruled based on the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. This does not
allow government to place burdens on exercise of religion. The Sherbert case involved an employee who
was fired because working on Saturday was against her Seventh-day Adventists
beliefs. When Sherbert applied for
unemployment she was denied. This decision was supported by a state trial, but
over turned by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. The employer had placed a
burden on her ability to exercise her faith. This case created the Sherbert Test, which determines if the
free exercise clause of the First Amendment causes undue burdened on religious
exercise. The Courts also ruled in favor of freedom of religion in the Wisconsin v Yoder case. The Yoder case was about an Amish family
that felt state education forced on their child past the 8th grade
was infringing on their freedom of religion. The Supreme Court ruled that the
parent’s rights under free exercise clause where more important than the
states’ rights and interest regarding educating children.

Some argue that the RFRA wasn’t meant to protect small
business and the interpretation from the Supreme Court in this ruling is wrong.
Lawmakers are lobbing congress to create a new bill that would prohibit
for-profit companies to opt out or gaining exemptions from the ACA. This law does
not amend the RFRA but it redefines the already interpreted definition of a
corporation vs. an individual. Currently the bill has 40 co-sponsors and if
passed will undermine the current ruling and instead of moving forward will
cause a step back. This would create another constitutional crisis in which the
Supreme Court would have to rule on it and use their power of interpretation of
the law.

To mandate a company to provide a product that is
against their religious beliefs places undue burden on their ability to
practice free exercise of religion. That mandate in the ACA is unconstitutional
based on ruling parameters set forth and the interpretation of a for-profit
family corporation to be an individual.

Concerned lawmakers have argued this is an attack on
Women’s health care while ignoring the root of the argument.  The main issue of this argument is religious
rights and the definition of an individual established in the RFRA. The real
women’s health issue should be on long-term health risk of this contraception’s.
Not enough research has been done to determine if the different emergency
contraception are even safe with long-term use.

One of the Supreme Court justice’s, Ginsberg wrote:
“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.” (Lopez).  Dissenters
agree with religious freedom within one’s own religion, but not to make others
follow your specific creed in the free market. They feel their own freedoms are
being denied or burdened by an employer. The argument is to require the
employers to pay for and provide all mandated health care contraception, even if
it goes against the co- founder’s beliefs. This argument is irrational appeal
and shifts the burden of proof to the family owners of Hoppy Lobby to prove
that their rights are equal to that of the people they employee. Which poses
the problem of employee rights over the family founders of Hobby Lobby’s rights
and is one more important than the other? The conclusion can be determined
based on precedent rulings from the Sherbert test that freedom to exercise
religion must be unburdened.

The Supreme Court pointed out that the RFRA was originally
enacted with the phrase “exercise of religion under the first amendment” (Cornell
University Law School) and that this was not tied to just the pre Smith
interpretation of the amendment but that the Supreme Court recognizes that
these rights extend past the Smith decision. 
“The exercise of religion shall be construed to favor of a broad
protection of religious exercise to the maxim permitted by this chapter and the
constitution” (Cornell University Law School).

 This is profound in that it clearly states
that the First Amendment is purposely broad in its exercise of religion. This
is why the Court couldn’t allow HHS to only exempt non-profit companies and
religious organizations, as it would infringe on the constitutional rights
under these broad rights. Simply put, the HHS does not have the constitutional
right to grant exemption to one party over another for religious rights. The
constitution is living document and the Supreme Court must protect the rights
it affords. These rights are available to everyone and must not be burdened by
the government.

 

 

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