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Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.(Amicus Brief)

In a friend-of-the-court brief, the Brennan Center explained that the Supreme Court’s expansion of corporate political speech in Citizens United provides no basis for recognizing religious rights in for-profit corporations.

Published: January 30, 2014

Under the Afford­able Care Act and its related regu­la­tions, employ­ers of 50 or more people are required to provide a minimum level of health insur­ance to their employ­ees.  Among other require­ments, the health plan must include cover­age for FDA-approved contra­cept­ive meth­ods. 

Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Cones­toga Wood Special­ties Corp. are two family-owned, for-profit corpor­a­tions.  The corpor­a­tions’ owners objec­ted to the require­ment that the corpor­a­tions provide cover­age for contra­cept­ives on the grounds that doing so contra­dicts their reli­gious beliefs.  As a result, the corpor­a­tions and owners filed suits claim­ing that the require­ment viol­ates their reli­gious freedoms under the First Amend­ment and are there­fore uncon­sti­tu­tional, among other argu­ments.

The Tenth Circuit ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.  The Third Circuit ruled against Cones­toga Wood Special­ties Corp., saying that the require­ment complies both with the Consti­tu­tion and the First Amend­ment.  The Supreme Court agreed to review both rulings and consol­id­ated the two cases into a single action.

The Bren­nan Center for Justice filed an amicus brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to deny a demand by the reli­gious owners of two for-profit corpor­a­tions to be exemp­ted from certain legal duties under the Afford­able Care Act.  The brief was filed in the consol­id­ated cases of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Cones­toga Wood Special­ties Corp. v. Sebelius.

The brief explains that for-profit busi­ness corpor­a­tions, as legal abstrac­tions, are incap­able of exer­cising the intensely personal emotions asso­ci­ated with reli­gious worship.  The right to the free exer­cise of reli­gion instead belongs to human beings.  While the Court has recog­nized corpor­ate consti­tu­tional rights in some contexts, it has not done so when the right in ques­tion is rooted in human dignity.  The Court’s expan­sion of corpor­ate polit­ical speech in Citizens United provides no basis for recog­niz­ing reli­gious rights in corpor­a­tions, the brief argues.  The major­ity’s reas­on­ing in that case focused squarely on the First Amend­ment interests not of corpor­a­tions but of the public — the Court assumed that people would need inform­a­tion from corpor­a­tions to parti­cip­ate effect­ively in our demo­cracy.  Consequently, for-profit corpor­a­tions with reli­gious owners are not entitled to an exemp­tion from the law’s require­ments based upon the First Amend­ment’s protec­tion of the free exer­cise of reli­gion.

The brief also explains that the Court has histor­ic­ally only gran­ted a reli­gious exemp­tion from stat­utory oblig­a­tions when the exemp­tion would not result in substan­tial third-party costs.  In this situ­ation, however, because grant­ing an exemp­tion would result in great costs to the corpor­a­tions’ compet­it­ors and employ­ees, the Court should not grant an exemp­tion.