On June 30, 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that family-owned corporations do not have to pay for insurance coverage for contraception if the corporations choose to exercise a religious exemption. This ruling is most commonly associated with the Hobby Lobby corporation, as lawyers argued that the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate violated Hobby Lobby owners' religious beliefs. The ruling has significant implications both for Hobby Lobby and for corporations and workers as a whole.
Why is the "Hobby Lobby case" such a big deal? The Supreme Court ruling is so significant because it sets the precedent for individual employers to challenge health care requirements set forward in the Affordable Care Act. The ACA has had a rocky start; to quote Nexxt, "technical issues, few options, and murky legal territory" have all stood in the way of ACA success. Now, the Hobby Lobby ruling sets a precedent for other corporations to challenge aspects of the Affordable Care Act in court.
The second reason why the Hobby Lobby case is a huge deal is that it states that employers have the right to decide what health care their workers receive. This seems like less of a big deal in the case of employers who refuse to pay for contraception, as there are many ways for people to purchase contraception on the open market. However, it is easy to see how this decision could be the beginning of a slippery slope, as other corporations could petition the Supreme Court for additional exemptions from their ACA responsibilities.
This case is also significant because the Supreme Court decided to allow Hobby Lobby to elect not to pay for insurance coverage of contraception due to the owners' religious beliefs. When the ACA makes health care a government mandate, allowing religious beliefs to determine which health care is provided to employees appears to be a violation of the separation of church and state.
The Hobby Lobby case also sets a precedent for the concept of "corporate personhood" — the idea that a corporation has the same legal rights as a person. In this case, the Supreme Court decided that it was possible for a corporation to have the same right to religious liberty as a person.
As the New York Times notes, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito has "emphasized the ruling's limited scope." Just because the Supreme Court ruled in favor of religious exemptions in this case does not mean that it sets a precedent for religious or other exemptions in all cases. However, only time will determine whether this scope is truly limited or whether other corporations successfully argue for additional exemptions from Affordable Care Act regulations.
The Hobby Lobby case is a big deal because it sets precedents in the areas of religious freedom, corporate personhood, the separation of church and state and the ability of corporations to successfully challenge the Affordable Care Act. Cases like these may proliferate over the next few years as the ACA continues to take effect.
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