Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: First Amendment
  • Date Filed: June 30, 2014
  • Case #: 13-354
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Alito, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, which Roberts, C. J., and Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas, JJ., joined. Kennedy, J., filed a concurring opinion. Ginsburg, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Sotomayor, J., joined and in which Breyer and Kagan, JJ., joined as to all but Part III–C–1. Breyer and Kagan, JJ., filed a dissenting opinion.
  • Full Text Opinion

The contraceptive coverage mandate of the Affordable Care Act substantially burdens a closely held corporation's free exercise of religion under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the government may not substantially burden an individual’s free exercise of religion, unless the government acts in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest, and acts in the least restrictive means of furthering that governmental interest. 42 U.S.C. §§2000bb—1(a), (b). In 2010, Congress passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which requires employers to provide employees with minimum level health insurance. The ACA requires coverage of all twenty FDA approved contraceptive methods.

Respondents, three closely held for-profit corporations, challenged the ACA contraceptive mandate, stating it violates their free exercise of religion by requiring them to pay for methods of contraception they are morally against. Respondents sued under the RFRA and the Free Exercise Clause, seeking a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the ACA’s contraceptive mandate. The court of appeals denied the injunction. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether closely held for-profit corporations are “persons” under the RFRA, and therefore substantially burdened by the ACA in their free exercise of religion.

The Court held that a closely held for-profit corporation’s free exercise of religion is substantially burdened by the ACA contraceptive mandate because a for-profit corporation could be considered a “person” under the RFRA. First, the Court stressed that Congress designed the RFRA to provide broad protection for religious liberty. Second, the Court stated that the RFRA should not force an individual to decide between giving up the right to protection of religious liberty or forgoing the benefits of operating as a closely held corporation. Third, the Court highlighted that there is no persuasive explanation for concluding that it is difficult to ascertain religious “beliefs” of corporations. Finally, the Court emphasized the government’s failure to show that the ACA contraceptive mandate is the least restrictive means of advancing the government’s interest in guaranteeing cost-free access to birth control.

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