In a 5-4 decision this morning, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, the religiously-owned crafts store chain that challenged the Obama administration’s contraception mandate on the grounds that it forced them to subsidize the violation of their faith. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito stated that the mandate unnecessarily burdened the challengers’ exercise of religion, given that the government could provide birth control to those in need without forcing employers to do so, as it did when it exempted non-profit religious organizations from the mandate and set up an alternative system.
Rather than compel closely-held corporations to fund birth control against their owners’ creed, the court said that the government could instead provide the birth control directly to women who seek it, thus ensuring access while also preserving religious liberty. “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 FDA-approved contraceptives,” the court held. In other words, the opinion exempts Hobby Lobby from providing coverage but does not bar the government from using alternate means to achieve the same ends. As the legal experts at SCOTUSBlog quickly noted, “The Obama Administration is almost certain to provide contraception coverage to women covered by today’s decision.”
The Hobby Lobby case sharply divided the country and American Jews, with many liberal Jewish groups submitting briefs in support of the government and the mandate, while more conservative and Orthodox ones backed the challengers. Here at Tablet, the Orthodox Union’s Nathan Diament explained that his organization supported exemptions to the mandate not out of any antipathy to birth control–where Judaism is more permissive–but because it feared increasing government encroachment on religious liberty. “All people of faith should understand and actively support the right of religious (and other forms of conscientious) dissent from the popular and majority view,” he wrote. “Today, in America, Catholic objections to women’s use of contraceptives may be broadly unpopular; tomorrow, it may be circumcision or kosher slaughter that are looked at askance in America, as they are today in Europe.”
On the other side of the ledger, Yishai Schwartz argued that those seeking to protect religious liberty ought to oppose the contraception mandate challenge, because the case was dangerously eroding the social consensus surrounding religious freedom in America. When the dust settles, “religious communities will have argued that exemptions are an absolute game in which the rules are dictated by the religious,” he wrote. “Faced with this all or nothing choice, the secular community will opt for ‘nothing.’ Opponents of the contraception mandate will have won the battle, but lost the war.”
Related: Why Hobby Lobby Isn’t Anti-Semitic