Written by Don Byrd
In the 2014 Hobby Lobby case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the religious exercise of closely-held corporations is protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as a means of safeguarding the religious liberty rights of its owners. As a result, such corporations like Hobby Lobby were entitled, the Court ruled, to an accommodation from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that health insurance plans offered to its employees must include contraceptive coverage, if providing such coverage would violate the company owners’ sincerely held religious beliefs.
The Court did not address whether all corporations, including publicly held businesses, may also exercise religion under the law. The majority opinion, authored by Justice Alito, expressed skepticism that might be an issue. He wrote that “it seems unlikely that …corporate giants…will often assert RFRA claims. …[N]umerous practical restraints would likely prevent that from occurring.”
In a new column published in the Christian Century, however, the Editorial Board points to recent actions by the Trump Administration, including new regulations allowing any employer to seek a religious exemption from the contraceptive coverage requirement, to suggest that large companies may indeed begin claiming religious liberty rights. The result, they warn, could be troubling.
Here is an excerpt:
This rule came out the same day as the Sessions memo articulating broad deference to such claims. The juxtaposition suggests where we’re headed: if a company wants an exemption from a given law, a promising strategy will be to phrase the request in the form of a religious exercise claim. It “seems unlikely,” wrote Alito, that a large, publicly traded company would assert such a claim. Of course, a lot of things seemed unlikely in 2014. In 2017, the executive branch appears determined to grease the wheels for just that.
Perhaps a corporation will invoke religion so as to save money by avoiding some provision of the law. Maybe it will assert a market-tested belief in a play for religious customers.