Hobby Lobby ruling means troubles for non-profits

In his opinion concerning the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby birth control case today, Justice Anthony Kennedy may have tipped on a related set of lawsuits brought by many nonprofits against the contraception mandate.

The Supreme Court decided today that closely held corporations like Hobby Lobby, owned by conservative Christians, should be allowed to opt out of covering birth control if they object to it morally. Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion that because the government already has accommodations for religious nonprofits, it would theoretically not be a burden on the government to extend that to religiously owned businesses.

Little Sisters of the Poor and several other religious nonprofits have also sued against the contraception mandate even though they qualify for accommodations because they believed it did not do enough to separate them from covering birth control. The accommodation says that nonprofits can fill out a form directing a third-party insurer to pay for coverage instead of the employer, but they argue that even filling out a simple form violates their beliefs.

He left the door open for a ruling either way on the merits of the accommodation. “We do not decide today whether an approach of this type complies with [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act] for purposes of all religious claims,” Alito stated. “At a minimum, however, it does not impinge on the plaintiffs’ religious belief that providing insurance coverage for the contraceptives at issue here violates their religion, and it serves HHS’s stated interests equally well.”

But Kennedy, who would probably be the swing vote in a theoretical ruling in the nun case, indicated in his opinion piece on Monday that he would be more sympathetic towards the administration rather than than the religious groups.

“The accommodation works by requiring insurance companies to cover, without cost sharing, contraception coverage for female employees who wish it,” Kennedy wrote. “That accommodation equally furthers the Government’s interest but does not impinge on the plaintiff’s religious beliefs.”

The Supreme Court will likely decide on the nun case within the year.