Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

AU's Role: 
AU's Involvement Began: 
March 2013
Status: 

As part of the Affordable Care Act's implementing regulations, group health plans are required to include coverage for various forms of preventative care, including all FDA-approved methods of contraception. Various secular, for-profit businesses with religious owners have filed lawsuits asserting that they cannot include contraception coverage in employee health plans without violating, among other things, their free exercise rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). 

Hobby Lobby, a chain of for-profit arts and craft stores, and Mardel, a chain of for-profit Christian book stores, are both owned by the Green family of Oklahoma City. In September 2012, Hobby Lobby, Mardel, and members of the Green family filed suit to challenge the contraception regulation in federal court in Oklahoma. After the trial court denied Hobby Lobby's request for preliminary relief, Hobby Lobby appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. In March 2013, we filed an amicus brief in support of the contraception regulations.

Later that year, the Tenth Circuit held that Hobby Lobby was likely to prevail in its claim that enforcement of the regulations violated the company's free exercise rights. The U.S. Supreme Court then agreed to hear the case, which was consolidated with another contraception case, Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell.

In January 2014, we filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court, on behalf of nearly 30 religious organizations. The brief argues that allowing Hobby Lobby to withhold contraception coverage would interfere with its employees' freedom to make their own decisions about contraception consistent with their own religious beliefs. We added that RFRA should not be interpreted in a manner that allows entities to impose harms on third parties, such as the employees of Hobby Lobby who would be left without contraception coverage if Hobby Lobby were to prevail.

In June 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the for-profit corporations, in a 5-4 decision. The Court held that (1) for-profit corporations are persons who can exercise religion under RFRA, (2) the contraception regulations substantially burdened the plaintiffs' religious exericse, and (3) even if the government had a compelling interest in enforcing the regulations, they were not the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.

Watch our Executive Director, Rev. Barry Lynn, discuss the case on Fox News

Read an analysis of the decision by our Legal Director, Ayesha Khan, on SCOTUSblog

Listen to our Senior Litigation Counsel, Gregory M. Lipper, discuss the contraception cases on the RJ Court Watch podcast