Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell

As part of the Affordable Care Act's implementing regulations, group health plans are required to include coverage for various forms of preventative care, including all FDA-approved methods of contraception. Various secular, for-profit businesses with religious owners have filed lawsuits asserting that they cannot include contraception coverage in employee health plans without violating, among other things, their free exercise rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Conestoga Wood Specialties manufactures custom wood cabinets and other furniture components. In November 2013, Conestoga Wood and its owners, the Hahn family, filed suit to challenge the contraception regulation in federal court in Pennsylvania. After the trial court denied Conestoga Wood's request for preliminary relief, Hobby Lobby appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. In April 2013, we filed an amicus brief in support of the contraception regulations.

The Third Circuit rejected Conestoga Wood's claims, and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Conestoga Wood's case. The case was consolidated with another contraception case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

In January 2014, we filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court, on behalf of nearly 30 religious organizations. The brief argues that allowing Conestoga Wood to withhold contraception coverage would interfere with its employees' freedom to make their own decisions about contraception consistent with their own religious beliefs. We added that RFRA should not be interpreted in a manner that allows entities to impose harms on third parties, such as the employees of Conestoga Wood who would be left without contraception coverage if Conestoga Wood were to prevail.

In June 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the for-profit corporations, in a 5-4 decision. The Court held that (1) for-profit corporations are persons who can exercise religion under RFRA, (2) the contraception regulations substantially burdened the plaintiffs' religious exericse, and (3) even if the government had a compelling interest in enforcing the regulations, they were not the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.

Watch our Executive Director, Rev. Barry Lynn, discuss the case on Fox News

Read an analysis of the decision by our Legal Director, Ayesha Khan, on SCOTUSblog

Listen to our Senior Litigation Counsel, Gregory M. Lipper, discuss the contraception cases on the RJ Court Watch podcast