U.S. faith groups were starkly divided in their reaction Monday to the Supreme Court’s decision affirming the religious rights of corporations, with some seeing a narrow decision protecting the religious liberty of business owners and others seeing a profane intrusion into the beliefs of employees.
Traditional Christians and Jews in particular celebrated Monday’s decision, which comes at a time when many feel conservative religious beliefs — especially around sexuality and marriage — are slipping in official status.
“Justice has prevailed,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement. “We welcome the Supreme Court’s decision to recognize that Americans can continue to follow their faith when they run a family business . . . Now is the time to redouble our efforts to build a culture that fully respects religious freedom.”
“Hallelujah! #HobbyLobby” tweeted Russell Moore, leader of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public advocacy arm.
Rev. Harry Knox, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, said business owners who feel their religious beliefs “are more important” than their female employees practice “nothing short of spiritual harassment.”
“When it comes to matters of personal health, real religious liberty respects the discernment process each person enters into guided by their own faith values,” Knox said.
The court’s ruling was over the question of whether the Affordable Care Act violates the law by requiring for-profit corporations — including those owned by people with religious objections — to provide employees no-cost contraception.
But most of the pending legal challenges to the health-care mandate are in the nonprofit sector, to where attention quickly shifted Monday.
Dozens of faith-based schools, Catholic dioceses and religious charities are in court against the White House, also objecting to offering coverage.
Unlike with religious business owners, the White House has offered faith-based nonprofits the option of identifying themselves as conscientious objectors, thus putting the burden of providing contraception on their insurance companies. But some nonprofits said that still entangled them in a system they view as immoral and akin to killing.
The question of what will happen to these many nonprofit cases is unfolding at the federal appeals court level.
Some groups that have worked closely with the White House urged the president to seek a compromise for the nonprofit stand-off.
Read the decision
“We hope that, in light of the Court’s ruling, the Obama Administration will now look to develop a new approach that will also allow the many pending lawsuits over religious liberty and the healthcare mandate to be settled,” said a statement from the Orthodox Union, the largest advocacy group for Orthodox Jews.
Some faith groups saw a dangerous, broadly worded decision. They pointed to the dissent written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
What about “employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?] . . . Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision,” she wrote.
“The First Amendment is at its best when it is used to protect the rights of minorities from the whims of the powerful. Today’s decision, which gives the powerful the right to force their religious beliefs on those around them, is a far cry from the best traditions of religious freedom,” wrote the Rev. Welton Gaddy, leader of the Interfaith Alliance.
Doug Laycock, a University of Virginia law professor who wrote a brief to the court supporting Hobby Lobby, said the idea of floodgates opening “is a scare tactic.”
He saw the ruling as narrow and the case itself as “unusual,” not one that would be applied to the big hot-button issues such as whether employers who reject same-sex marriage could claim religion in order to discriminate against gay customers, for example.
In fact, he thought the ruling threw a bone to both sides in a country in a culture war.
“No matter what they did the country will be unhappy,” he said. But the ruling showed “religious liberties can be protected, and we can have contraception and that may calm the waters. There is a way for both sides to live together and live according to their beliefs, and the court found it here.”
But it wasn’t immediately clear how the ruling would be applied to the many pending nonprofit cases, which involve prominent religious organizations that include the University of Notre Dame and Wheaton College.
The ruling, in criticizing the government, noted that the White House hadn’t offered as big an exemption to companies as it did to nonprofits, who can say they have an objection and trigger insurers to pay.
Some said that seemed to show the court found the exemption for nonprofits sufficient, while others said the basic argument for both groups is the same: Offering contraception violates some people’s conscience.
Some faith-based groups sought a middle ground. Among them was Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, which said in a statement that the decision “upholds the strong American tradition of protecting the religious liberty of the citizens of the United States. That being said, we remain committed to seeing the implementation of health care reform throughout the nation. We too believe that access to quality health care is a God-given right for all Americans.”