Today the Supreme Court issued its decision in the case of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., a case which also included Mardel and Conestoga Wood Specialties joining in with Hobby Lobby in protesting the government requirement that they provide certain contraceptives as part of their health care plans. The court ruled that most companies do not have to provide these contraceptives to their employees if the company has a religious objection to doing so.
"Our family is overjoyed by the Supreme Court’s decision. Today the nation’s highest court has re-affirmed the vital importance of religious liberty as one of our country’s founding principles. The Court’s decision is a victory, not just for our family business, but for all who seek to live out their faith. We are grateful to God and to those who have supported us on this difficult journey."
-- Barbara Green, co-founder of Hobby Lobby
This is interesting for a number of reasons. This decision appears to indicate that corporations are not just people, but people that have religion, and moreover, that in the case of closely held* for-profit corporations this religion can be determined by the owners/board members of the corporation (apparently corporations do not have free will). Presumably a corporation would lose its religion if it ceased to be closely held, but I don't believe that the court has officially ruled on this.
Moreover, corporations can have very specific religious beliefs. While Hobby Lobby's stated objection to abortion is fairly widespread among Christians (despite the Bible forgetting to mention much of anything about it), the four birth control methods that Hobby Lobby was objecting to are not legally classified as abortifacients. Plan B (Levonorgestrel), ella (Ulipristal acetate), Mirena (IUD with progestogen), and copper IUDs are primarily used as birth control, which Hobby Lobby is generally not too upset about. Plan B is never used to stop a fertilized egg from implanting, and therefor does not even meet Hobby Lobby's definition of an abortifacient. And that doesn't matter.
In other words, Hobby Lobby, the corporation, has declared that it objects to X, and does not need any particular scientific, doctrinal, or consistent evidence to back this up. And it now can legally just not pay for X, even if federal law dictates that they should pay for X.
It is unclear why this would not apply to an Orthodox Jew refusing to pay for women to attend to medical center that does not keep tehorah, a Scientologist refusing to pay for psychological treatment outside of that provided by the church, a Jehovah's Witness refusing to pay for a blood transfusion, or a Jedi refusing to pay for any medical care at all for anyone who identifies as Sith.
Needless to say, this ruling has caused a bit of a stink.
* There is some debate over what closely held might mean in this sort of case, but the IRS defines a closely held corporation as "a corporation that has more than 50% of the value of its outstanding stock directly or indirectly owned by five or fewer individuals at any time during the last half of the tax year. It also cannot be a personal-service corporation." About 90% of U.S. companies would be covered under this definition. Read more here: WSJ: Hobby Lobby Ruling Raises Question: What Does 'Closely Held' Mean?*.
** Paid writers for the Wall Street Journal should not have such a stupid headline. If you are paid to write you should know your idioms. However, the ruling does raise an important question.