The Supreme Court Hobby Lobby Ruling Puts Religious Beliefs Over Scientific Fact (2014)

Andrea Sears

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in the Hobby Lobby case holds that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ requirement that employers cover all FDA-approved forms of contraception is a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. According to Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion, the requirement violates “the sincerely held religious beliefs of the companies’ owners.”

This ruling sets a dangerous precedent by giving unfounded personal opinion under the cover of “religious belief” the force of law over scientific fact. In this case, the owners’ belief that certain forms of contraception such as IUDs and the morning after pill are equivalent to abortion is simply untrue. Yet the conservative majority put the high court’s seal of approval on the imposition of unsupported beliefs on thousands of employees who may not share those beliefs.

Though Justice Alito said the court’s opinion is extremely limited in scope, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg warned in her dissent that the ruling could apply to all corporations and to any number of laws.  Allowing for-profit corporations exemptions from federal laws that they claim violate their “religious beliefs”, regardless of the scientific validity of those beliefs, could open the door to suits challenging mandated insurance coverage for a wide variety of medical procedures and  treatments such as vaccinations and blood transfusions, as well as a host of other laws including anti-discrimination statutes.

There are already dozens of pending lawsuits filed by both non-profit and for-profit corporations citing religious objections to federal health insurance requirements.  By granting “religious” rights to for-profit corporations the Supreme Court may have placed decades of progress in health care and civil rights legislation at risk.

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