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Issue: 1245 Date: 7/3/2014
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Hobby Lobby Decision Says Corporations Have Religious Freedom
 Local Cases Seek More
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        In two sharply divided decisions with significant impact in Missouri and Illinois, the U.S. Supreme Court extended religious rights to corporations that object to providing contraceptives to workers and it held that home health workers had a free speech right not to pay union dues.

        Both decisions on the closing day of the court were written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. and featured all five Republican-nominated justices voting in the majority and all four Democratic-nominated justices voting in dissent. In the contraceptive case, all of the justices in the majority were men and three of the justices in the dissent were women.

        The Hobby Lobby decision affects about a dozen lawsuits in Missouri and Illinois and about 70 nationally. It extends the protections of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to closely held corporations that object on religious grounds to certain contraceptives. The court said that the Obama administration still could require that women receive contraceptive services but would have to find a less restrictive way of doing it.

        The Hobby Lobby decision continues a trend of the Roberts court extending rights to corporations. In the Citizens United decision of 2010 the court ruled that corporations had First Amendment right to make unlimited political expenditures. In Monday's decision, the court said for-profit corporations had religious freedom guaranteed under federal law because those rights protect the people behind the corporation.

        "When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people," wrote Alito.

        Precedent for Missouri case

        Timothy Belz, a local attorney who represents Sharpe Holdings in a Hobby Lobby type case here, was succinct when asked how the decision would affect his client. "It means we win," he said.

        Sharpe Holdings includes Ozark National Life Insurance Co., CNS Corp., N.I.S. Financial Services Inc., CNS International Ministries and Heartland Christian College. Charles Sharpe, the founder, owns a large farm in northeast Missouri and believes he should operate his companies in a way that does not promote what his suit calls "abortion on demand."

        Belz said that, like Hobby Lobby, Sharpe has no objection to most forms of contraception, but the family opposed four forms of contraception that it thinks act as abortifacients. Hobby Lobby opposed two forms of contraception.

        Belz gave a window into the future of cases challenging the Obama contraceptive mandate.

        Accommodation for religious protest

        Belz said that companies like Sharpe will not be willing to settle for the accommodation that the Obama administration has extended to religious nonprofits and that the court seemed to all but approve in Monday's decision.

        Under that accommodation, a religious nonprofit with religious objections can file a form declaring those objections. That triggers an obligation by the health insurance company providing health coverage to pay for the contraceptive services. The cost of that insurance is estimated to be less than the health care costs of pregnancy, so there is no financial burden on the health care company.

        The availability of this accommodation was a major reason the court ruled in the Hobby Lobby decision that the Obama contraceptive requirement violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That law requires that the government have a compelling reason for burdening religious belief and that it choose the least restrictive method to achieve its end.

        Because the Obama administration already had offered a less restrictive accommodation to religious nonprofits, the requirement that for-profit companies pay for the contraceptive services clearly wasn't the least restrictive means available, the court said.

        But Belz said that neither Sharpe nor religious nonprofits like the Little Sisters of the Poor in Colorado will be satisfied with this accommodation. They are not willing to file the form that activates the obligation of the health care plan to provide the contraceptive services.

        The Little Sisters made its objection to the Supreme Court late last year. The court said they could just send a letter to the secretary of Health and Human Services stating their objection, rather than filing a required form. But it's not clear that the letter triggers the obligation of the health plan to provide the services.

        Belz said that the accommodation, "while it's better than having to pay for or provide those items, it still implicates them, it still requires the nonprofits to be collaborators in the provision of these drugs and device."

        The St. Louis Archdiocese filed a lawsuit last year on behalf of Catholic Charities challenging this accommodation. Its suit stated, "Catholic Charities' actions trigger the provision of the ‘free' objectionable products and services. Catholic Charities cannot avoid facilitating the provision of the objectionable products and services for example, by contracting with an insurance company that will not provide or procure the objectionable products and services or even dropping its health insurance plans altogether without subjecting itself to crippling fines, other negative consequences, and/or lawsuits by individuals and governmental entities."

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