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Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

Supreme Court of the United States

March 25, 2014, Argued 1; June 30, 2014, Decided

No. 13-354; 13-356

Opinion

 [*688]   [**2759]  Justice Alito delivered the opinion of the Court.

We must decide in these cases whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA or Act), 107 Stat. 1488,  [*689]  42 U.S.C. §2000bb et seq., permits the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to demand that three closely held corporations provide health-insurance coverage for methods  [****13] of contraception that violate the sincerely  [*690]  held religious beliefs of the companies’ owners. We hold that the regulations that impose this obligation violate RFRA, which prohibits the Federal Government from taking any action that substantially burdens the exercise of religion  [*691]  unless that action constitutes the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest.

In holding that the HHS mandate is unlawful, we reject HHS’s argument that the owners of the companies forfeited all RFRA protection when they decided to organize their businesses as corporations rather than sole proprietorships or general partnerships. The plain terms of RFRA make it perfectly clear that Congress did not discriminate in this way against men and women who wish to run their businesses as for-profit corporations in the manner required by their religious beliefs.

Since RFRA applies in these cases, we must decide whether the challenged HHS regulations substantially burden the exercise of religion, and we hold that they do. The owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients. If the  [****14] owners comply with the HHS mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions, and if they do not comply, they will pay a very heavy price—as much as $1.3 million per day, or about $475 million per year, in the case of one of the companies. If these consequences do not amount to a substantial burden, it is hard to see what would.

Under RFRA, a Government action that imposes a substantial burden on religious exercise must serve a compelling government interest, and we assume that the HHS regulations  [*692]  satisfy this requirement. But in order for the HHS mandate to be sustained, it must also constitute the least restrictive means of serving that interest, and the mandate plainly fails that test. There are other ways in which Congress or HHS could equally ensure that every woman has cost-free access to the particular contraceptives at issue here and, indeed, to all Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved contraceptives.

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573 U.S. 682 *; 134 S. Ct. 2751 **; 189 L. Ed. 2d 675 ***; 2014 U.S. LEXIS 4505 ****; 82 U.S.L.W. 4636; 123 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 621; 2014-2 U.S. Tax Cas. (CCH) P50,341; 24 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 965; 2014 WL 2921709

SYLVIA BURWELL, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, et al., Petitioners (No. 13-354) v. HOBBY LOBBY STORES, INC., et al. CONESTOGA WOOD SPECIALTIES CORPORATION et al., Petitioners (No. 13-356) v. SYLVIA BURWELL, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, et al.

Notice: The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.

Prior History:  [****1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT

Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sec'y of the United States HHS, 724 F.3d 377, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 15238 (3d Cir. Pa., 2013)Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius, 723 F.3d 1114, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 13316 (2013)

Disposition: No. 13-354, 723 F. 3d 1114, affirmed; No. 13-356, 724 F. 3d 377, reversed and remanded.

CORE TERMS

contraceptive, religious, for-profit, coverage, exercise of religion, Lobby, employees, accommodation, religious belief, exemption, cases, regulations, preventive, least restrictive, compelling interest, religion-based, religion, free-exercise, sincerely, benefits, entities, Church, First Amendment, rights, organizations, religious liberty, nonprofit, free exercise, grandfathered, substantial burden

Civil Rights Law, Protection of Rights, Religious Freedom, Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Constitutional Law, Fundamental Freedoms, Freedom of Religion, Free Exercise of Religion, Public Health & Welfare Law, Social Services, Institutionalized Individuals, Advocacy & Protection, Healthcare Law, Payment Systems, Insurance Coverage, General Overview, Tax Law, Federal Excise Taxes, Healthcare, Maternity & Children, Governments, Legislation, Interpretation, Business & Corporate Law, Corporate Formation, Corporate Existence, Powers & Purpose, Valid Purposes, Enactment, Civil Procedure, US Supreme Court Review