This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 decision in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores. The court ruled that "closely held corporations" -- a term that applies to as much as 90% of American businesses, which employ 52% of American workers -- cannot be forced to pay for their employees' contraception if they (meaning the corporation) have religious objections.
In a blistering dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg slammed the majority's decision as one of "startling breadth" that will allow corporations to "opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs."
Women's rights groups, progressive organizations, and LGBT rights advocates immediately condemned the Hobby Lobby ruling and noted that the impact of today's decision could be far-reaching indeed, opening the door for corporations to challenge all sorts of other laws they claim violate their "religious beliefs."
Human Rights Campaign
"Religious groups have a long-established first amendment ability to operate according to their own beliefs," said Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. "Instead of protecting religious liberty, this ruling gives license for businesses to use their personal beliefs as a reason to deny people access to basic, yet crucial medical services." HRC remains hopeful that the Court's limitation in this case will be extended to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. We will remain vigilant in the event business owners attempt to use this decision to justify other forms of discrimination, including against LGBT people. In the immediate aftermath, some members of the LGBT community will feel the effects of this decision; countless lesbian and bisexual women as well as some transgender men rely on contraception. HRC will continue to work closely with our partners in the women's and reproductive health movements, as well as other LGBT groups, as this issue continues to be debated.
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
"This is a dangerous precedent from the Court -- which could leave women in limbo for their basic health care. Under the ruling, some corporations will be treated like religious institutions and these so-called 'religious corporations' will not have to pay for health care that they disagree with. So what happens if a woman needs birth control and their employers won't pay? What happens if a trans woman needs hormones and their bosses won't pay? What happens if a couple needs fertility treatments and the 'religious corporation' they work for won't pay? Yet again, another barrier put in the way of vital and affordable health care."
Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders
Today's Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. can only be seen as bad news for women's health. There can be no sugar-coating that. We extend our support to all women, including women in our LGBT community who may be affected by potential restricted access to reproductive healthcare, and to our allied organizations who work so hard to protect that access.
Anticipating the ruling, LGBT people feared that a broad decision could open the door to outright discrimination and firings as the expression of religious belief. The majority opinion avows a much narrower reach of its decision. It notes that the government has a compelling interest in creating equal opportunity in the workplace while prohibitions on discrimination are precisely tailored to achieve that "critical goal." In such circumstances, exemptions from the law are not allowed. In addition, Justice Kennedy's concurrence - representing the fifth vote needed by the majority - was clear that religious exercise may not "unduly restrict other persons, such as employees, in protecting their own interests, interests the law deems compelling."
While the decision today makes clear that there is no opening for demands to be exempt from non-discrimination laws, we are very aware of the need to be vigilant. Attempts to discriminate against LGBT people are increasingly being articulated as religious expression, as in the case of GLAD's client Matt Barrett. His offer of employment was withdrawn by Fontbonne Academy, a religiously-affiliated school, when he noted on a form that his spouse was a man. We have sued on Matt's behalf, and we will continue to fight for him and against any and all attempts to justify discrimination against LGBT people.
More, after the break.
Transgender Law Center
Transgender Law Center is disappointed with today's Supreme Court's ruling in favor of two companies that had challenged the Affordable Care Act's requirement that for-profit companies must provide their employees with contraceptive health care coverage. The Court held that the application of that requirement to "closely held corporations" violated another federal law, the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA") because the majority concluded that the requirement substantially burdened the corporations' religious beliefs, and that the contraceptive mandate was not the least restrictive means of furthering the government's compelling interest in guaranteeing access to contraception.
Importantly, the majority opinion written by Justice Alito clarified that this decision should not provide a free pass to corporations to evade other laws, like those prohibiting discrimination. The Court's ruling will not allow companies to discriminate against LGBT employees and then claim that their religious beliefs somehow justify that discrimination.
Nonetheless, this extremely troubling decision is an unprecedented step backwards. The Court has never before said that employers can use their religious beliefs as an excuse to deny their employees a benefit that they are guaranteed by law to receive. In ruling otherwise today, the Court simply got it wrong, with serious consequences for the health of women and all people who need access to birth control.
Although the Court today gives some companies the right to take away contraception coverage from their employees, the fight isn't over. We urge Congress to take swift action to ensure that all people who need it have access to contraception without cost.
"Today's ruling sends an unfortunately clear message that the Supreme Court of the United States thinks more highly of private, for-profit corporations than individuals. While we're disappointed in this ruling because of the implications for women across the country whose access to contraception is being attacked, we're equally disappointed because of the implications for LGBTQ individuals. The same entities that are fighting women's access to healthcare are also fighting LGBTQ equality -- and this ruling simply sets the stage for future efforts to reduce the ability for individuals to make their own decisions about their lives and about their bodies. Today's ruling sets the stage for further and wider challenges to the idea that employers should treat all of their employees and potential employees equally, and opens the possibility for employers to refuse to provide employees with health insurance that covers HIV or AIDS medication, blood transfusions, anti-depressants, and all manner of other life-saving care.
"We must re-double our commitment to push back on the dangerous efforts to write discrimination into law under the guise of 'religious liberty.' These efforts, such as the religious discrimination law in Mississippi that will go into effect tomorrow, are smokescreens for religious bigotry. GetEQUAL will continue to call out religious discrimination when and where it happens, and will continue to work closely with our friends in the reproductive justice movement to win our collective liberation from government-sanctioned oppression."
National Center for Lesbian Rights
"The majority's holding that closely held corporations can claim religious liberty protections designed for individuals--and can rely on those protections to avoid complying with generally applicable laws--is a dangerous and radical departure from existing law that creates far more questions than it answers and shows a callous disregard for the health care needs of women workers. Thankfully, however, the majority recognized that even under its sweeping new rule, corporations cannot rely on claims of religious liberty to evade non-discrimination laws. That limitation is extremely important and means that employers cannot exploit today's decision to justify non-compliance with laws that prohibit discrimination against LGBT people and other vulnerable groups, but we will need to be vigilant to make sure that principle is respected and enforced."
NARAL Pro-Choice America
"Today's decision from five male justices is a direct attack on women and our fundamental rights. This ruling goes out of its way to declare that discrimination against women isn't discrimination.
"Allowing bosses this much control over the health-care decisions of their employees is a slippery slope with no end. Every American could potentially be affected by this far-reaching and shocking decision that allows bosses to reach beyond the boardroom and into their employees' bedrooms. The majority claims that its ruling is limited, but that logic doesn't hold up. Today it's birth control; tomorrow it could be any personal medical decision, from starting a family to getting life-saving vaccinations or blood transfusions.
"Ninety-nine percent of women use birth control at some point in our lives, and none of those stories made it into the arguments. It's outrageous that these five male justices chose to single out birth control for special discrimination.
"NARAL's message has always been clear: bosses who want control over their employees' personal medical decisions are offensive, out of touch, and out of bounds, and so is this ruling. We call upon Congress to right this wrong, and we will work tirelessly with our allies and member activists to make sure that the people who would stand between a woman and her doctor are held accountable."
National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
"This is truly a disappointing day because a majority of the Supreme Court justices has made a decision that will hurt our country, hurt businesses and hurt equality. The ruling for Hobby Lobby sets a dangerous precedent for future laws, such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, because it could give legal argument to for-profit companies to claim religious exemption on non-discrimination policies," said Justin Nelson, co-founder and president NGLCC.
NGLCC was proud to sign on to an amicus curiae in the case in which it stated: "Recognizing a corporate free-exercise right would force companies to divert time and resources away from their core business activities in order to manage inevitable conflicts about the company's purported religious beliefs that will arise among corporate stakeholders."
"NGLCC is also greatly bothered that this ruling appears to now create a substantial threat to major gains in coverage the Affordable Care Act has brought to individuals," said Nelson.
NGLCC stood with the U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce to be the first business advocacy voices sharing policies on this case.
Today's majority ruling disregards decades of case law that drew a protective line between free religious expression and religious dominance of others. It is a radically dangerous decision that invites more misguided actions contrary to essential protections for employees, customers and the public. It is imperative that the U.S. Congress amend the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act to withdraw the blessing the Court mistakenly has given these companies to impose their beliefs on working women. Today's ruling is about the ACA and women's reproductive health and rights, but some may mistake this narrow ruling as a wide open door for religious liberty exemptions from other statutes that protect employees and the public. Today's opinion says doing so would be incorrect. However, recent mistreatment of LGBT people in employment and other commercial settings still makes this extremely troubling. A business owner's religious objection to a worker's same-sex spouse or a customer's LGBT identity is not acceptable grounds for discrimination. It is more important than ever that states and Congress enact strong, clear nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people.
The American Humanist Association
"The Supreme Court has placed the religious views of corporate shareholders over the legitimate health care concerns of employees," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. "This isn't religious liberty--it's religious intrusion that will negatively affect many hard-working Americans."
By privileging the religious views of corporate owners, the ruling places a substantial burden on women who wish to obtain birth control methods, such as the IUD or morning after pill, the costs of which can be as high as $1,000 annually. The ruling may also spur other for-profit corporations to deny employees access to certain medical procedures, based on their owners' personal creeds.
"The Supreme Court is endangering the health care of many Americans based on the fictitious idea that a corporation has religious convictions," said David Niose, legal director of the American Humanist Association's Appignani Humanist Legal Center. "By expanding the rights of corporations, this court is in fact contracting the rights of hard-working Americans who expect full health care coverage as required by law."
Center for Inquiry
Today the Court made clear it does not view Americans' access to medically necessary health care as a compelling government interest, and announced loud and clear that the religious preferences of employers take preference over the health needs of workers.
In making its decision, the Supreme Court also made a determination that will cause significant confusion in church-state litigation for years to come. The majority held that small, closely held, for-profit private corporations have standing to sue under RFRA - in other words, that such corporations have the religious beliefs of their owners, and the same right to free exercise as their owners.
"The potential effects of this decision are absolutely chilling, setting a precedent that is sure to reverberate far beyond the issue of contraceptive coverage," said Ronald A. Lindsay, President and CEO of the Center for Inquiry.
"This is not a decision that advances religious freedom - it is a decision that enshrines religious privilege over and above employee well-being," added Lindsay. "This decision defies common sense, lacks compassion, and has the potential to harm us all."
United Church of Christ
"The Court's decision today is in fact an affront to the religious liberty of women across the country, who we believe have a right to make decisions based on the dictates of their moral conscience and religious beliefs. Since the early 1970s, the United Church of Christ General Synod has long witnessed to this fundamental right of conscience, one central to our religious forbearers," said Sandy Sorenson, Director of the United Church of Christ's Washington, D.C. office. "We are particularly concerned that those women most impacted by the inability to access the full range of reproductive health services are low-income and working women, who do not otherwise have the means to access such care. This decision has troubling implications for the health care of women and families. We will continue to work with our partners to advocate for policies that ensure access to affordable, comprehensive reproductive health care services for all women."
On the other side, the Religious Right is crowing: