Legal groups which advocate for LGBT
rights have criticized a Supreme Court ruling declaring that some
for-profit companies may block their employees' access to certain
birth control methods.
Several companies challenged the
Affordable Care Act's (ACA) requirement that insurance health plans
include coverage for FDA-approved contraception. The companies
equated such methods with abortion and asserted that the First
Amendment protects their religious freedom.
In a split 5-4 decision, the justices
struck a blow to President Barack Obama's health care law.
Analysts noted that the ruling was not
as sweeping as it could have been. It applies only to closely-held
corporations and is based on a law approved by Congress, not a
constitutional right to exercise religion.
Writing for the majority, Justice
Samuel Alito ruled that the religious protections found in the
Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 apply to for-profit
“A corporation is simply a form of
organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends” Alito
said. “Protecting the free-exercise rights of corporations like
Hobby Lobby, Conestoga and Mardel protects the religious liberty of
the humans who own and control those companies.”
Jennifer C. Pizer, senior legal counsel
and director at Lambda Legal's Law and Policy Project, called the
ruling “radically dangerous.”
The ruling “invites more misguided
actions contrary to essential protections for employees, customers
and the public,” she said in a statement. “It is imperative that
the U.S. Congress amend the federal Religious Restoration Act to
withdraw the blessing the Court mistakenly has given these companies
to impose their beliefs on working women.”
“[R]ecent mistreatment of LGBT people
in employment and other commercial settings still makes this
extremely troubling. A business owner's religious objection to a
worker's same-sex spouse or a customer's LGBT identity is not
acceptable grounds for discrimination. It is more important than
ever that states and Congress enact strong, clear nondiscrimination
protections for LGBT people,” she added.
Gary Busek, interim executive director
at GLAD, said that while the court's decision “makes clear that
there is no opening for demands to be exempt from non-discrimination
laws, we are very aware of the need to be vigilant.”
“Attempts to discriminate against
LGBT people are increasingly being articulated as religious
expression,” he added.
Shannon Minter, legal director at the
National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), echoed the sentiment.
“Thankfully … the majority
recognized that even under its sweeping new rule, corporations cannot
rely on claims of religious liberty to evade non-discrimination
laws,” Minter said. “That limitation is extremely important and
means that employers cannot exploit today's decision to justify
non-compliance with laws that prohibit discrimination against LGBT
people and other vulnerable groups, but we will need to be vigilant
to make sure that principle is respected and enforced.”