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July 5, 2014

In Our Opinion: Hobby Lobby ruling was gross overreach

Cargill. Wal-Mart. Heinz. Dell. Hilton. Bloomberg. Toys-R-Us. And Hobby Lobby. 

These are among the companies affected by the Supreme Court’s recent decision about employee health care and contraception. 

The court ruled Monday that “closely held” corporations — those in which at least 50 percent of the stock is controlled by five or fewer people — can exempt emergency contraception and two types of intrauterine devices from employees’ health plans. (These companies would still be required to cover hormonal birth control pills and other types of contraception.)

The lawsuit involved two companies, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, which together employ about 14,000 people. But not all “closely held” corporations are small companies. Just the companies listed above employ hundreds of thousands of people. 

We understand the need to make accommodations so that people are not unreasonably compelled to violate their beliefs. That’s why religious organizations are exempted from some of the Affordable Care Act’s requirements. 

But Hobby Lobby is a private business, whose owners chose to enter the marketplace and employ thousands of people — none of whom are required to share the owners’ beliefs. As Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissenting opinion, “Religious organizations exist to serve a community of believers. For-profit corporations do not fit that bill.” 

Ginsburg also notes that the court has long held that accommodations for religious beliefs “must not significantly impinge on the interests of third parties” — which this ruling clearly does. 

This ruling allows the beliefs of a very select few to override those of thousands. It is a disheartening extension of the recent Citizens United ruling, which erased the distinction between people and corporations with regard to free speech. As a nation founded on democratic principles, is this really the model we want for our society — a system controlled by a powerful few, accountable to no one?  

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