The Supreme Court ruled Monday morning that the government cannot compel closely held corporations with religious owners to provide contraception coverage for its employees.
Two family-owned companies, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, had argued that the insurance requirement in President Barack Obama’s signature 2010 health care law violated a 1993 religious-freedom law.
The health care law already excludes churches and other religious entities from the contraception mandate.
The Hobby Lobby arts-and-crafts retailer is operated by evangelical Christians, and cabinet manufacturer Conestoga Wood Specialties is owned by Mennonites.
The Obama administration argued that for-profit companies – even closely held ones – do not exercise religious rights as individuals and therefore are not covered by the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
But the court, in a 5-4 vote and majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, upheld an appeals court ruling on the case, finding that the government had failed to show that its mandate is the "least restrictive means of advancing its interest in guaranteeing cost-free access to birth control."
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in a concurring opinion that the government could pay for the coverage itself so women could receive free contraception coverage.
The decision covers only the contraceptive mandate and does not necessarily apply to other insurance mandates, such as blood transfusions or vaccinations, if they conflict with an employer's religious beliefs.
[Image: Woman with birth control pills via Shutterstock]