On June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby and similar employers cannot be forced to comply with the federal contraception mandate against their religious beliefs. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that the federal government had failed to prove that the mandate was the least restrictive means of advancing its goal of providing free birth control to women. The court said that the mandate cannot be applied to closely-held corporations with religious owners who object to it. The IRS defines “closely-held corporations” as those with more than 50 percent of their stock held by five or fewer individuals. Craft giant Hobby Lobby and its owners, the Green family, had challenged a federal mandate issued under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which requires employers to offer health insurance covering contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can cause early abortions. The Greens said that mandate would require them to violate their deeply-held Christian beliefs against facilitating abortion. Failure to comply with the mandate could have resulted in fines of more than $1 million per day. In July 2013, the Greens received a temporary court injunction protecting them from the penalties until the Supreme Court ruled on their case. Hobby Lobby has more 500 stores across the U.S. Motivated by the Green family’s Christian beliefs, the stores are closed on Sundays and the owners pay minimum wages above the national standard. The company drew support from Christian, Jewish and Hindu groups concerned about religious freedom. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops filed a brief voicing opposition to any rule that would require religiously motivated business owners to “choose between providing coverage for products and speech that violate their religious beliefs, and exposing their businesses to devastating penalties.” Over 100 members of Congress and 20 states filed legal briefs supporting Hobby Lobby, as have pro-life groups including Democrats for Life. In the same ruling, the Supreme Court also struck down the mandate as it applies to Conestoga Wood Specialties, a company owned by a Mennonite family with religious objections to the regulation. The decision could have a widespread impact in the more than 100 other religious freedom lawsuits filed against the mandate by more than 300 plaintiffs.
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