WASHINGTON — It’s not just about religious freedom, it’s about Obamacare — that’s what politicians and lawyers alike are saying about the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision handed down by the Supreme Court Monday.
“The Supreme Court recognized that American families do not lose their fundamental rights when they open a family business,” said Lori Windham, lead attorney for the family of David Green, which owns Hobby Lobby. “This case is about the freedoms of all Americans, women and men, and it’s something that all Americans should celebrate today.”
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Green family in the closely watched case, and now many are seeing the decision as a vindication of religious liberty and also a strike against the Affordable Care Act.
“ObamaCare was written and passed with a clear disregard for the reality that millions of Americans are inspired by their faiths in all aspects of their lives, including the way entrepreneurs manage their businesses,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said in a statement. “In America, no one should be forced to violate their religious beliefs if they wish to run a business.”
Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented Hobby Lobby, explained that the heart of the issue is defining what the government can and can’t force businesses to do.
“If the government wants to go around providing people with benefits on its own, that’s fine, that’s not what the plaintiffs are objecting to,” Rienzi said. “None of the people [who are plaintiffs] in these cases object to that. The problem is when you force these people to do something contrary to their religious beliefs. If the government wants to do it, that’s fine, but you’re not forcing me to violate my religious beliefs. If the government wants to provide it, then the government can provide it.”
In the Supreme Court opinion, Associate Justice Samuel Alito wrote, “We must next ask whether the contraceptive mandate substantially burdens the exercise of religion. We have little trouble concluding that it does.”
Alito continues to explain how ACA changes everything about the case.
“Before the advent of ACA, they [the Hahns and the Greens] were not legally compelled to provide insurance,” Alito said. “But they nevertheless did so — in part, no doubt, for conventional business reasons, but also because their religious beliefs govern their relations with their employees.”
Rienzi elaborated on Alito’s statement by pointing out that until ACA was passed in 2012, business owners could pick and choose what they put into their employee insurance policies. With this ruling, the Supreme Court is asserting the right for employers to opt out of the ACA mandate if it forces employers to act against their religious beliefs.
“It’s really hard to believe that the interests of the employees is crushed by serving the interests of the employer,” Rienzi said.
Going forward, Rienzi believes Burwell v. Hobby Lobby to be a self-contained case, and does not believe it will open the floodgates for hordes of business owners protesting different forms of healthcare like vaccinations and blood transfusions.
“The court thinks this is really unlikely to happen again, but they’re willing to deal with it if it comes again,” Rienzi said. “Hobby Lobby is a small, closely-held family business, and that’s all the court was deciding today.”