Lawyer: Hobby Lobby Ruling Will Help Religious Nonprofits Win Exemptions

July 11, 2014 - 2:57 PM

Mark Rienzi

Mark Rienzi, senior counsel, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty (Becket Fund)

(CNSNews.com) - The U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling has opened a door for religious non-profits that also oppose the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate and its resulting accommodation authorizing third-parties to pay for abortion-inducing drugs, says Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

The ruling will strengthen the case of such groups, including the Little Sisters of the Poor and Wheaton College, as they attempt to get a hearing before the high court, Rienzi told attendees at a Heritage Foundation event in Washington this week.

The Becket Fund represented Hobby Lobby in its successful challenge of the contraceptive mandate.

Rienzi, who was also an oral advocate in McCullen v. Coakley, which declared buffer zones around abortion clinics unconstitutional, said that "I think Hobby Lobby is certainly a very strong decision to help the non-profits…. I think it’s a very, very helpful decision that will probably be put to a lot of good use in the lower courts."

“The majority opinion in Hobby Lobby very strongly rejects the attenuation argument, which is the argument under which the government had been prevailing to the extent that it had prevailed in the non-profit cases," he added.

The “attenuation argument” refers to the administration’s position, as stated in Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion, that “the connection between what the objecting parties must do (provide health-insurance coverage for four methods of contraception that may operate after the fertilization of an egg) and the end that they find to be morally wrong (destruction of an embryo) is simply too attenuated.”

On June 30, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 in favor of the retail craft store, stating that religious freedom also applied to businesses that disapproved of funding certain contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

In doing so, the high court’s majority addressed the attenuation argument in a footnote, noting that “the connection between what these religious employers would be required to do if not exempted...and the ultimate event that they find morally wrong...is exactly the same.”

Wheaton College, one of the religious non-profits challenging the contraceptive mandate, got a preliminary injunction on July 3 that prevents the federal government from enforcing the mandate until the Christian college's case is heard in court.

Other religious non-profits that are also challenging the contraceptive mandate include the Eternal Word Television Network, Colorado Christian University, and Union University. The Supreme Court is expected to consider these cases in the fall.

However, supporters of the Obama administration mandate are trying to reverse the Hobby Lobby decision legislatively to prevent other businesses and religious nonprofits from getting Hobby Lobby-type exemptions from the courts.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.)

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) (AP Photo)

On Wednesday, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced a bill exempting Obamacare from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which would undermine the basis of the Hobby Lobby ruling.

“We believe, and I think every American believes, you are entitled to your own religious beliefs. You’re protected in your own religious beliefs under our Constitution."

"But you are not entitled to impose your religious beliefs on another person, and that is what this court has sanctioned with the Hobby Lobby decision,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said at a press conference announcing the effort on Thursday.