Jan 28, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court should rule that owners of secular, for-profit corporations do not have the right to deny their employees access to contraceptives on religious freedom grounds, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and its allies say.

In a friend-of-the-court brief being filed with the high court today on behalf of over two dozen religious organizations, Americans United argues that the owners of Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties must comply with the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive mandate, which requires businesses that provide health insurance to their employees to include coverage for no-cost birth control.

“The Supreme Court must reject a theory of religious freedom that allows employers to meddle in and control the private lives of their workers,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United.

In March, the Supreme Court will consider Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius. The cases were brought by the owners of Hobby Lobby, a nationwide chain of craft stores, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, which manufactures products for home construction. The owners of both companies claim their religious beliefs will be violated if they must provide insurance coverage for certain types of birth control.

Hobby Lobby and Conestoga both cite the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), legislation passed in 1993, in their defense.

The brief explains that RFRA was never meant to create religious freedom rights for secular, for-profit corporations. It asserts that RFRA should not be used to harm individual rights and says the law should be interpreted in a manner that takes into account the country’s growing religious diversity.

Because the American workforce is increasingly religiously diverse, the owners of for-profit corporations should not be permitted to impose personal theological beliefs onto employees, the brief argues.

The brief points out that many people have different religious beliefs about contraception than their employers. It argues that if the plaintiffs prevail “employees would find it more difficult to make personal decisions about healthcare and contraception in accordance with their own consciences.”  

Americans United has filed briefs previously in both of these cases, urging the courts to reject the religious freedom argument and uphold the ACA’s contraceptive mandate. 

“We are a country of great religious diversity, and American workers must be able to make their own medical, family and reproductive decisions according to their own moral and religious values,” said Gregory M. Lipper, senior litigation counsel for Americans United and a primary author of the brief. “Although the for-profit corporations in this case are claiming the mantle of religious liberty, if courts put workers’ medical decisions at the mercy of their bosses, it would undermine the free exercise of religion.” 

In addition to Lipper, the brief was authored by Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan, and Madison Fellow Caitlin E. O’Connell.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

The following religious organizations joined Americans United on the brief:


Anti-Defamation League

Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice

Catholics for Choice

Central Conference of American Rabbis



Disciples for Choice

Disciples Justice Action Network

Global Justice Institute

Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc.

The Hindu American Foundation

The Interfaith Alliance Foundation

Jewish Reconstructionist Communities

Jewish Women International

Interfaith Alliance Foundation

Methodist Federation for Social Action

Metropolitan Community Church

National Coalition of American Nuns

National Council of Jewish Women

New Ways Ministry

Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

Religious Institute

Society for Humanistic Judaism

Union for Reform Judaism

Unitarian Universalist Association

Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation

Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual

Women’s Ordination Conference

Women of Reform Judaism.