Activists from around the country, from pro-life groups to Tea Party Patriots, plan to be on-hand on Tuesday for a rally opposing the HHS mandate as the Supreme Court begins to hear arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius.
“This case has always been about religious liberty. At its heart it’s about … whether the government can force its citizens that profess a certain faith to violate their most deeply held beliefs when they enter the marketplace,” says Ashley McGuire, senior fellow with The Catholic Association.
At issue is whether the mandate’s requirement of coverage for abortifacients, sterilization, and contraception violates the First Amendment’s freedoms of religion and speech. Opponents say it will force companies to cover procedures and products they find immoral, whereas the government says there is a compelling interest to impose these requirements.
Out of 61 rulings at various court levels across the country, 54 have ended in injunctions for non-profit and for-profit organizations suing to have the mandate declared unconstitutional. One of those came from Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, an Obama nominee.
Among other reasons for the mandate, the Obama administration’s lawyers will argue that existing corporate law separates owners and corporations, and thus a mandate on a corporation should not be interpreted as a mandate on the owners.
According to Becket Fund Legal Counsel Daniel Blomberg, this argument won’t stand up in front of the Court.
“It’s wrong [that]we don’t protect free exercise in this country [for everyone]. We do for corporations – churches are corporations – but this Administration says only specific corporations can’t have free exercise. We protect free speech, religious freedom, and other constitutional protections, so carving out special non-exemptions is ridiculous.”
Second, says Blomberg, “existing law [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993]protects the free exercise of religion for all persons – and under the Dictionary Act, “persons,” if unidentified, includes corporations. Therefore, corporations are included in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which had bipartisan backing, including by President Clinton.”
In short, “we don’t think it will stand up very well at all. You have a very significant burden on people here. The Green family is here, just like Hobby Lobby is. In a different case looking at the mandate, the D.C. Circuit Court said even if the corporate issue was set aside, the administration would lose.”
Opposition to the mandate has come from multiple religious fronts, but especially the Catholic Church and its charitable affiliates, including hospitals and colleges. For example, the injunction from Sotomayor protected Little Sisters of the Poor from the mandate, and Priests for Life received a separate injunction.
Becket represents Hobby Lobby, which is one of two corporations bringing lawsuits to the Court’s attention. The other is Conestoga Wood, owned by a Mennonite family. Both companies are opposing the mandate because they believe it requires them to pay for immoral activities, including abortion.
Organizations that don’t provide coverage required under the mandate could see fines of millions of dollars per year.