The members of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 today — in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stories Inc. (Case number 13-354) that closely held corporations do have religious rights, and should be able to avoid complying with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) birth control mandate regulations.
But Justice Samuel Alito wrote in an opinion for the majority that the opinion applies only to closely held corporations, and only to the birth control mandate provisions in the regulations that HHS wrote to implement basic preventive services benefits section of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).
Alito wrote for the majority that a closely held corporation does have rights under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA).
RFRA prohibits the government from substantially interfering with a “person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability,” unless the government shows that applying the burden furthers a “compelling government interest” and is the “least restrictive means of furthering that compelling government interest.”
The family that owns Hobby Lobby Stores and Hobby Lobby’s sister company, Mardel Inc., and the family that owns Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., wanted HHS and the courts to respect their ability to get protection from RFRA. The Hobby Lobby case majority agreed that closely held corporations have RFRA rights, but took pains to avoid saying that the ruling applies to other types of corporations.