Director Carter Snead on Hobby Lobby Ruling

Author: Stephen Freddoso

Below is a statement from O. Carter Snead, Director of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture and Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School, regarding today's Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

"Today’s Supreme Court opinion in Hobby Lobby is a strong and welcome affirmation that the faithful do not lose the protections of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act simply because they choose to exercise their religion through a closely held for-profit business. 

"The decision is a clear rebuke to the federal government’s efforts to compel family business owners like the Greens to provide coverage for drugs and devices that (according to FDA’s own labeling) might function to cause the death of a human being at the embryonic stage of development. The Court also squarely rejected as woefully inadequate the government’s suggestion that the Greens could avoid violating their religious commitments by simply dropping all of their employees from the generous Hobby Lobby health plan. Finally, the Court confirmed that the government may not second-guess or substitute its own opinions for the sincere judgment of religious believers about what their faith requires.

"At the same time, the Court made it clear that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is not an automatic trump card for the faithful against all state action. The statute provides a careful balancing test that—consistent with our nation’s best traditions—requires accommodation of sincerely held religious beliefs except in those cases where the challenged law is the least restrictive means of accomplishing a compelling state interest. One could easily imagine a future challenge to a government program (e.g., vaccinations) or an insincere plaintiff that would not prevail under RFRA.

"By contrast, the HHS contraceptive mandate marks a clear and unlawful overreach by the government under RFRA. Even assuming (as the Court did) that the government’s asserted interest here is compelling, there are myriad less restrictive means of pursuing this goal without conscripting the Greens into paying for or otherwise facilitating access to drugs and devices that might cause the death of a living human embryo. Most obviously, the government could pay for these drugs and devices directly.

"Hopefully, in light of today’s ruling, the federal government will reverse its misguided strategy of coercing religious believers and their institutions—including the University of Notre Dame—into facilitating conduct that conflicts with their deeply and sincerely held religious convictions."