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Hobby Lobby decision was legally sound [Letter]

Healthcare Policies and LawsCourts and the JudiciaryFamily PlanningJustice SystemFreedom of ReligionU.S. Department of Health and Human ServicesPlan B (drug)

The Sun's editorial board really should read the Supreme Court decision, not just the dissent, before you write an editorial on it ("Corporations v. People," July 1).

First, this decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to hold that all insurance coverage mandates — vaccinations or blood transfusions, for example — must necessarily fall if they conflict with an employer's religious beliefs. Nor does it provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice.

Second, corporations are owned by people, so this is not a case of corporations trumping people. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services argued that the companies cannot sue because they are for-profit corporations and that the owners cannot sue because the regulations apply only to the companies. The court recognized that this would leave merchants with a difficult choice: give up the right to seek judicial protection of their religious liberty or forgo the benefits of operating as corporations. In this way, the court determined that the mandate violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. The RFRA text shows that Congress designed the statute to provide very broad protection for religious liberty and did not intend to put merchants to such a choice. Protecting the free exercise rights of closely-held corporations, says the majority, protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them. Business practices compelled or limited by the tenets of a religious doctrine fall comfortably within the understanding of the exercise of religion.

Additionally, the Supreme Court found that the HHS mandate violated RFRA because it imposed a substantial burden (if the companies refused to violate their beliefs, they would face severe economic consequences — about $475 million per year for Hobby Lobby, $33 million per year for Conestoga and $15 million per year for Mardel). The government also failed to satisfy RFRA's least restrictive-means standard since the government could assume the cost of providing the four contraceptives to women unable to obtain coverage due to their employers' religious objections or extend the accommodation that HHS has already established for religious nonprofit organizations to non-profit employers with religious objections to the contraceptive mandate.

Your claim that the religious beliefs in question are irrational is ill-informed, at best. According to webmd.com, "It is also possible that this type of emergency birth control (referring to Plan B) prevents implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus by altering its lining." This meets the definition of terminating a pregnancy since Christians view conception as the beginning of new life and the beginning of a pregnancy. The medical community, also, views fertilization as the beginning of a pregnancy, otherwise terms such as "ectopic pregnancy" would be meaningless.

Finally, this decision in no way denies anyone access to birth control. The decision only applies to four of the twenty mandated forms of birth control. Also, as the court stated in the decision, the government can chose to pay for coverage of the four additional forms of birth control or the employee can add that coverage and pay for it herself.

Linda Smith, Glen Burnie

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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