U.S. Supreme Court

Justices appear ready to accept that some corporations can assert religious freedoms under RFRA

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A majority of Supreme Court justices considering the contraceptive mandate on Tuesday appeared ready to accept that closely held corporations may be covered by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a threshold question in the case.

But the justices appeared divided on further questions in the challenge to the health care law’s requirement that corporate health plans include contraceptive coverage, report the Washington Post and the New York Times. Other issues are whether the government has a compelling interest in the requirement, whether it imposes a substantial burden on religious exercise, and whether there is a less intrusive way to provide the coverage, the Post says. How Appealing links to additional coverage.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy asked questions that appeared to favor both sides. But this statement by Kennedy to U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, indicated a concern for the corporations: “Under your view, a profit corporation could be forced… in principle to pay for abortions.”

Pressed by Kennedy, Verrilli conceded that Kennedy’s statement was true, but the solicitor general added that there is no law like that on the books. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. jumped in, noting that’s an issue in the case. The corporations contend that some of the required contraceptives, such as IUDs and RU-486, induce abortion.

The cases are Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius.

Prior coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Chemerinsky: Corporations, contraception and religious freedom”

ABA Journal: “Companies claim contraceptive mandate goes against owners’ religious beliefs”

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