Supreme Court Rules For-Profit Companies Can Use Religion to Ignore Some Worker Protections

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June 30, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled 5-4 that some for-profit companies can assert religious rights to block their employees’ access to group health plan coverage for FDA-approved contraception as required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Jennifer C. Pizer, Lambda Legal Senior Counsel and Director, Law and Policy Project, issued the following statement:

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.

Affordable Care Act at the Supreme Court: Religious Exemptions

Today’s ruling came in two cases challenging the ACA’s requirement that FDA-approved contraception be among the basic preventive health care services included in insurance coverage for employees, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialities Corporation v. Burwell. Lambda Legal, joined by GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBT Equality and Pride at Work AFL-CIO, had filed a friend-of-the-court brief in these cases urging the Supreme Court to reject arguments made by these for-profit companies that they should be allowed to block their employees’ access to ACA-required insurance coverage for contraception because the companies’ owners claim birth control violates their religious beliefs.

The brief argued that large for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Products should follow the same rules as other companies that sell products to the general public and should not be free to impose their owners’ religious views on their employees or selectively block group-health plan coverage in order to interfere with their employees’ private decisions about family planning and other medical treatment.

Read the press release.