Does A Company Have Religious Rights?

SCOTUS is going to have to answer that question:

The Supreme Court will hear two challenges to the requirement that all employers provide birth control coverage to their workers. One comes from craft store chain Hobby Lobby and the other from Conestoga Wood Specialties, a custom cabinet-making company in Pennsylvania.

The owners of both companies have argued that the requirement to provide employers with contraceptive coverage is a violation of their religious liberty. And, in Hobby Lobby’s case, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed: The craft store won a preliminary injunction against the health law requirement this past summer. The Department of Justice then appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court, leading to today’s granting of cert for the case.

Dahlia Lithwick examines the case:

The court will need to address several questions here, beginning with whether a for-profit corporation can be a “person” capable of exercising religion freedom. Citizens United taught us that corporations count as people when it comes to campaign speech. Does this weird concept of personhood extend to their religious rights? The 10th Circuit said yes. The 3rd Circuit said no. More questions: Does the birth-control coverage benefit substantially burden a company’s exercise of its religious rights, if it has them? Is the contraception mandate nevertheless justified by compelling government interests because it is a vitally important element of affording women equality in health care?

Schwartzman and Tebbe find no precedents:

Never has the Supreme Court suggested that profit-seeking companies may exercise religious freedom rights. In contrast, many Supreme Court cases before Citizens United had indicated if not outright insisted that corporations do enjoy speech rights. These corporate religious freedom cases are truly without precedent, yet they are coming to be viewed by the media and the courts as though they are part of a natural legal progression.

Jeffrey Rosen worries the case could have major consequences:

The case has huge significance because, if the broad version of the constitutional challenge is accepted, any for-profit corporations whose owners claim that they are organizing their businesses to further religious principles could claim exemption from a host of federal regulations. As Judge Illana Rovner pointed out in her dissent from the Seventh Circuit case granting a religious exemption to the health care mandate to for-profit corporations, a ruling along these lines “has the potential to reach far beyond contraception and to invite employers to seek exemptions from any number of federally-mandated employee benefits to which an employer might object on religious grounds.” For example, Judge Rovner noted, an employer who is a Methodist and objects to stem cell research might refuse to cover an employee’s participation in a clinical trial of stem cell research for Lou Gehrig’s disease; an employer who is a Christian scientist might insist that the ACA’s mandate of coverage for traditional medical care is a violation of his religious beliefs; and an employer who is a Southern Baptist and objects to gay marriage and surrogacy might refuse family leave to gay employees that would otherwise be required under federal law.

Finally, Sargent sizes up the politics of the case:

Bloomberg poll last March found that more than six in 10 Americans, and nearly 70 percent of women, rejected the GOP’s rationale for opposing the contraception mandate, seeing it as a matter of women’s health, and not religious liberty, with more than three quarters saying the topic shouldn’t even be part of the debate — suggesting that the middle of the country soundly rejects the GOP’s framing of the issue. And so, Dems will use this news to try to shift the argument over Obamacare on to cultural and health care turf that has already proven favorable to them.