What Everyone Seems to be Overlooking in the Hobby Lobby Decision

On Monday, the Supreme Court released its 5-4 decision in the case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. The knee-jerk reaction for many television and media news outlets, including CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, was to make the debate about the idea of corporate personhood, or women’s health, or the extent of religious liberty and whether or not the state has an interest in mandating contraceptive care (or if it can).

While all of these questions had various degrees of validity leading up to the Supreme Court’s decision, most news outlets are missing or ignoring what the court actually decided.

The high court did not even consider whether or not the state has a compelling interest to mandate contraceptive care. It did not rule that this portion of the Affordable Care Act (colloquially known as Obamacare) is constitutional or unconstitutional. The court did not expand the definition of corporate personhood. What the high court ruled was that the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare is not narrowly tailored to the government’s interest in this particular case.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA, 1993) says that the religious practices and values of religious persons cannot be severely burdened by government mandates or policies unless the state has a compelling interest and meets the standards of constitutional strict scrutiny, which includes the requirement that the government not limit religious freedom unless there is no other less restrictive alternative. The RFRA provides a definition for “persons” subject to its religious protections and within that definition, the act includes “corporations.”

In other words, the RFRA does not apply to just some corporations. Therefore, the high court ruled that because the RFRA does not distinguish between strictly religious organizations and other for-profit corporations, the exemptions of “Obamacare” must satisfy the requirements of RFRA as to all corporations. And because RFRA applies, Obamacare must meet strict constitutional scrutiny.

Under strict constitutional scrutiny, the state must prove that, when limiting religious freedom, there is no other less restrictive alternative.

The court ruled that because Obamacare established non-profit entities to provide employees of religious organizations with contraceptive care when those organizations object to providing it, the state has proved that there are less restrictive alternatives than restricting the religious freedoms of persons, which includes for-profit corporations (see above).

So, because employees of such organizations and corporations can still get contraceptive care, the interest of the state, whether compelling or not, would not be defeated by affording for-profit corporations the exemption.

Read the court’s decision: