(Photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
The U.S. Supreme Court announced Tuesday it will hear arguments for cases involving the Obama administration's birth control mandate as it relates to for-profit companies.
The two cases, which will be heard together, involve two Christian companies: Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties. Both companies sued the Department of Health and Human Services for requiring them to provide so-called "morning-after pills" in their employee's health care plans.
Providing those drugs would be in opposition to their religious beliefs because the drugs are abortifacients, they argue. Both companies are owned by Christian families whose pro-life views derive from their religious beliefs.
The Court must decide whether companies have First Amendment religious freedom protections. Two different appeals courts came up with different conclusions regarding that question, which increased the likelihood that the Supreme Court would need to clarify the issue for the lower courts.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found that Conestoga Wood Specialties does not have the right to freely exercise its religion because it is a "for-profit secular corporation."
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit found the opposite. Corporations do enjoy religious freedom protections, the judges claimed in Hobby Lobby's lawsuit.
"My family and I are encouraged that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide our case," Steve Green, Hobby Lobby's founder and CEO, said in a Becket Fund press release. "This legal challenge has always remained about one thing and one thing only: the right of our family businesses to live out our sincere and deeply held religious convictions as guaranteed by the law and the Constitution. Business owners should not have to choose between violating their faith and violating the law."
Thus far, there have been 44 lawsuits from for-profit companies and 40 lawsuits from non-profit groups over the birth control mandate. The for-profit cases reached the Supreme Court first because non-profit groups were given an additional year before they have to comply with the mandate.
Oral arguments will likely be around March 2014, with a decision about two or three months later.