On March 25 the Supreme Court will hear arguments in two cases, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, whose outcomes will decide whether corporations can exempt themselves from provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), based on religious beliefs. The cases challenge a provision of the ACA that requires employer-provided insurance plans to include contraception coverage.
The rulings’ importance extends beyond the ACA, however. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, its companion case, are also about Citizens United -- which established that corporate personhood includes freedom of speech, exercised, in part, by giving money to political causes. Now the court will decide whether corporations have freedom of religion as well, and whether on the basis of those rights, corporations can deprive services to others.
The court should reject this dangerous assertion. Corporations exist as separate legal entities precisely to distinguish their activities from those of their owners. It is that separation that Hobby Lobby threatens to erase.
The facts are straightforward. Under the Affordable Care Act, employers must provide health insurance to employees -- including, if the employee requests it, coverage for women’s healthcare, which includes contraception. Hobby Lobby, a national corporation with more than 21,000 employees, is owned by conservative Christians who believe that by providing the option of such coverage -- though it is chosen and used by someone else -- they would violate their religious beliefs. So the company sued Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of Health and Human Services, and the department, among others.
But the injured party here is Hobby Lobby, not the owners. Thus the corporation, not its owners, is alleged to have a conscience and religious beliefs afflicted by Obamacare.