Note: this post has been updated.

The Supreme Court just handed down a decision in the blockbuster Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case, setting new–if narrow–precedent governing how much control government has over religious exercise in America.

In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that a closely held corporation cannot be required to provide contraception coverage. Justice Alito, writing for the majority, said that the government failed to show that the mandate is the least restrictive means of advancing its interest in guaranteeing cost-free access to birth control.

The Government has failed to satisfy RFRA’s least-restrictive-means standard. HHS has not shown that it lacks other means of achieving its desired goal without imposing a substantial burden on the exercise of religion. The Government could, e.g., as-sume the cost of providing the four contraceptives to women unable to obtain coverage due to their employers’ religious objections. Or it could extend the accommodation that HHS has already established for religious nonprofit organizations to non-profit employers with re-ligious objections to the contraceptive mandate. That accommodation does not impinge on the plaintiffs’ religious beliefs that providing in-surance coverage for the contraceptives at issue here violates their religion and it still serves HHS’s stated interests.

The government argued that the owners of companies like Hobby Lobby should not be able to sue as individuals over this mandate, because the Obamacare regulations apply to the actual companies only. However, The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) affords extremely broad protections to the officers, employees, and shareholders associated with corporations. Justice Alito makes a point to shed light on the impossible decision the Obama Administration feels comfortable forcing business owners to make: give up the right to defend your religious liberty, or forego the benefits of operating as a corporation.

In his concurrence, Justice Kennedy remarked that the government itself could ensure women receive free birth control–by placing the burden on the taxpayers as opposed to forcing coverage via mandate.

Presented this past march, the Hobby Lobby parties asked the Court to determine whether or not the government can use the Obamacare mandate to force privately owned corporations –in this case, Hobby Lobby and Christian bookstore chain Mardel–to provide their employees with contraception over the objections of corporations’ owners. The respondents (the Green family, who owns both Hobby Lobby and Mardel) argued that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act allows them to offer insurance to their employees that specifically excludes contraceptives and abortifacients. However, the Affordable Care Act’s provisions as written require company policies to cover–at no cost to the insured–“preventative care” services and contraception, or else face heavy fines.

It’s important to note that the decision is narrow, and specifically addresses the contraception mandate:

This decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to hold that all insurance coverage mandates dates, e.g., for vaccinations or blood transfusions, must necessarily fall if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs. Nor does it provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice.

The left’s reaction this morning has been predictable:

National Review’s Deroy Murdock revealed an inconvenient truth regarding the left’s hyperventilation over the Hobby Lobby holding. As it turns out, Hobby Lobby’s health care plan has always provided copay-free access to 16 different categories of contraception:

Male condoms
Female condoms
Diaphragms with spermicide
Sponges with spermicide
Cervical caps with spermicide
Spermicide alone
Birth-control pills with estrogen and progestin (“Combined Pill)
Birth-control pills with progestin alone (“The Mini Pill)
Birth control pills (extended/continuous use)
Contraceptive patches
Contraceptive rings
Progestin injections
Implantable rods
Female sterilization surgeries
Female sterilization implants

On the other hand, Hobby Lobby’s plan declines coverage to just four categories of contraception:

Plan B (“The Morning After Pill”)
Ella (a similar type of “emergency contraception”)
Copper Intra-Uterine Device
IUD with progestin

The real cause of progressive America’s mass hysteria? The idea that a corporation owned by a devoutly religious family would dare to ask its employees to purchase their own abortifacients.

The contraception mandate as passed disabled religious freedom in America. Obama Administration officials crafted it knowing that if upheld, it would force business owners to submit to yet another big government mandate, or suffer severe financial penalties–possibly in the millions of dollars. The Hobby Lobby ruling won’t fix every threat to free exercise, but it’s a start; and when dealing with this Administration, any progress should be celebrated as a win for the Constitution.


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