The government cannot require for-profit employers to insure birth control in company health plans if it violates their religious beliefs, a divided Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The 5-to-4 decision in the “Hobby Lobby” case is a political blow to the Obama administration, which had allowed nonprofit groups to avoid direct responsibility for Obamacare’s contraception mandates but held firm against corporate owners who complained and filed suit.
“Hobby Lobby wins! Hobby Lobby wins!” shouted protesters outside the court, referring to the Oklahoma-based crafts store that became the face of the challenge.
The court said the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 offers protection to the closely held corporations that sued, and the government had not demonstrated that the mandate was necessary and the “least restrictive” means to extended coverage to women.
It is the first time the high court has signaled that corporations may exercise religious. But rather than issue a sweeping comment on religious liberty, the court said their ruling is limited to contraception.
Dozens of corporations with religiously devout owners sued the Obama administration in federal courts across the country. They said the mandate posed an impossible choice — either violate their deeply held beliefs or drop health coverage for their employees.