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Do For-Profit Corporations Have Religious Freedom?

A provision under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) has raised the question of whether for-profit corporations have religious freedom. The ACA through guidelines from the Health Resources and Services Administration requires that non-grandfathered group health plans and individual health insurance cover, without cost to the individual, all FDA-approved contraceptive methods. The FDA-approved methods include contraception known as the "morning-after pill" and the "week-after pill", which the FDA has acknowledged can terminate pregnancy after conception. While exemptions for contraception coverage have been made for religious non-profit corporations, no exemptions are available to for-profit corporations.

In Oklahoma (10th Circuit Court of Appeals), Hobby Lobby, a Christian for-profit arts and crafts store, and Mardel, a Christian for-profit literature retailer, sued the federal government over being required to include in health insurance four methods of contraception of the 20 FDA-approved methods. The family that owns Hobby Lobby and Mardel is deeply religious and run the businesses according to their religious beliefs, which prohibit terminating pregnancy after conception. The family argues that requiring the businesses to cover the objectionable contraception violates the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

On June 27, 2013, an Oklahoma District Court issued an order preventing the federal government from enforcing the contraception requirement and any related penalties against Hobby Lobby and Mardel. The order came after the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decided that, even as for-profit corporations, Hobby Lobby and Mardel do have religious freedom and are likely to succeed on their claim under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

A different result recently occurred in Pennsylvania (3rd Circuit Court of Appeals). Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Christian for-profit manufacturer of cabinets also sued the federal government for the same reason-that being required to provide through health insurance objectionable methods of contraception violates religious freedom. On August 1, 2013, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals held that for-profit, secular corporations do not have religious freedom.

More than 60 lawsuits have been filed throughout the country on the same issue. On June 11, 2013, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Ohio, heard oral arguments on the same issue. Even if the 6th Circuit issues a decision soon, Hobby Lobby may be the first one to reach the Supreme Court as the Department of Justice must decide by late September whether to file a petition. Whether for-profit corporations have religious freedom may be the next question resulting from healthcare reform that the Supreme Court answers.

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