Supreme Court sides with employers over birth control mandate

BY ROBERT BARNES June 30 at 11:25 AM

The Supreme Court struck a key part of President Obama’s health-care lawMonday, ruling that some companies may refuse to offer insurance coverage of specific birth control methods if they conflict with the owner’s religious beliefs.

In a 5 to 4 ruling that pitted religious freedom against equal benefits for female workers, the court’s conservatives decided that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) gave employers the right to withhold certain birth control methods from insurance coverage.

The contraceptive mandate “clearly imposes a substantial burden” on the owner’s beliefs, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the majority.

It was the first time that the court had decided that the federal law covers corporations, not just the “persons” referred to in its text.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read a dissent from the bench.

“Our cosmopolitan nation is made up of people of almost every conceivable religious preference,” Ginsburg said. “In passing RFRA, Congress did not alter a tradition in which one person’s right to exercise of her religion must be kept in harmony with the rights of her fellow citizens, and with the common good.”

The consolidated cases before the Supreme Court asked a question the court had never confronted: whether the Constitution or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which protects an individual’s exercise of religion, extends to secular, for-profit corporations and their owners.

The 1993 religious-freedom law prohibits the federal government from imposing a “substantial ­burden” on a person’s exercise of religion unless there is a “compelling governmental interest” and the measure is the least-restrictive means of achieving the interest.

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