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U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Local Challenge of Federal Contraception Mandate

A Lancaster County-based company is one of two family-owned businesses taking on the so-called “contraception mandate” in the federal Affordable Care Act. Oral arguments are set to begin Tuesday morning in the U.S. Supreme Court.

One of the central questions in this case is whether for-profit corporations exercise religious beliefs, and can therefore claim a religious exemption to a law.

Two companies, including Conestoga Wood Specialties, based in Lancaster County, object to a part of the health care law’s regulations, and they’re asking for a religious exemption.

The Supreme Court ruled in the 2010 Citizens United case that corporations do have free speech rights protected by the First Amendment. For challengers of the health care law, that decision left open the question of whether they exercise religious beliefs.  

“If corporations can exercise the same first amendment rights that individuals can, well then a corporation should have the right to exercise religion, too,” said Michael Dimino, associate professor at Widener Law in Harrisburg, describing the arguments of challengers of the contraception mandate.

Conestoga is a cabinet maker business owned by a Mennonite family in East Earl, Lancaster County. It is joined in this case by the Hobby Lobby chain of crafts stores, owned by a Christian family, based in Oklahoma.

Both object to having to cover intrauterine devices and emergency contraception in their health care plans, as required under the ACA. They say their only alternative is to pay hefty fines.

The government, for its part, is expected to argue that for-profit corporations in particular are not able to claim religious beliefs and, therefore, a religious exemption. Dimino said it would be one thing if the corporations challenging the contraception mandate in this case were not-for-profit – he used the example of a Catholic diocese.

“But a for-profit company that just happens to be founded by people with a certain religious belief, or happens to have a lot of shareholders or directors who have a certain religious belief – the government’s going to say that that’s different,” Dimino said.

The challenge to this portion of the federal health care law is a limited one, hinging on the premise that companies hold religious beliefs. Dimino said if the challenge is successful, it won’t necessarily open the floodgates to a wide range of challenges of other federal statutes.

“I don’t think there are very many corporations who are going to claim that they have a religion,” Dimino said. “General Motors is not going to claim that it’s Catholic. Hobby Lobby is, but Hobby Lobby is unusual in that respect.”