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On June 30, 2014, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell. Both cases involve a challenge by small, closely held corporations to a regulation issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, often called the “contraceptives mandate,” under which companies are required to provide their employees with health insurance that covers a broad array of contraceptives, including some that may function as abortifacients. The corporations and their owners assert religious objections to this mandate, and the principal question before the Court is whether the mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), which requires that the government not “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless that burden is the least restrictive means to further a compelling governmental interest.

In an opinion delivered by Justice Alito, the Court held that, as applied to closely held corporations, the HHS regulations imposing the contraceptive mandate violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Per Justice Alito, RFRA protects closely held for-profit corporations like Conestoga, Hobby Lobby, and Mandel, and  HHS’s contraceptive mandate substantially burdens the exercise of their religion. Assuming for the sake of argument that the government has a compelling interest in guaranteeing cost-free access to health care, the mandate is not the least restrictive means for the government to achieve this goal. Chief Justice Roberts as well as Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas joined the opinion of the Court. Justice Kennedy filed a concurring opinion. Justice Ginsburg filed a dissenting opinion which Justices Sotomayor, Breyer, and Kagan joined. Justices Kagan and Breyer also filed a separate dissenting opinion. The decision of the Tenth Circuit (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores) was affirmed; The decision of the Third Circuit (Conestoga Wood Specialities Corp. v. Burwell), was reversed and remanded.

To discuss the case, we have Prof. Michael P. Moreland, Vice Dean & Professor of Law, Villanova University School of Law as well as Prof. Richard W. Garnett, IV, Professor of Law & Concurrent Professor of Political Science, Founding Director, Program on Church, State & Society, University of Notre Dame Law School.

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