WASHINGTON (CN) - The Supreme Court took up two cases Tuesday afternoon concerning business that are opposed to the contraception mandate in health care reform.
Each case resolved differently in the federal courts of appeals this past summer.
On June 27, the 10th Circuit found that injunctive relief may be available to Christian-owned retailers Hobby Lobby and Mardel.
Both retailers belong to the Green family, who joined the September 2012 lawsuit against the Obama administration under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and free exercise clause of the First Amendment. They said the mandate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act forces them to violate their religious faith, as they believe they would be forced to fund abortion-causing drugs, including the morning-after pill.
The Greens argued that religiously motivated business owners, such as themselves, would be forced to violate their faith under threat of $1.3 million in fines per day. The fines would have started accruing on July 1.
Write for the 10th Circuit's five-member majority, Judge Timothy Tymkovich said "sincerely religious persons" could find a connection between the exercise of religion and the pursuit of profit.
"We see no reason why one must orient one's business toward a religious community to preserve Free Exercise protections," the 67-page opinion states. "A religious individual may enter the for-profit realm intending to demonstrate to the marketplace that a corporation can succeed financially while adhering to religious values. As a court, we do not see how we can distinguish this form of evangelism from any other."
A month later, a divided panel of the 3rd Circuit refused to exempt a Mennonite-owned cabinet business Conestoga Wood Specialties from the same mandate after finding that for-profit companies "cannot engage in religious exercise."
The carpentry business in central Pennsylvania is owned by the Hahn family and employs about 950 people. The Hahns' Mennonite faith teaches them that terminating a fertilized embryo "is intrinsic evil and a sin against God," according to their lawsuit against the Obama administration.
In its ruling, the 3rd Circuit contrasted Conestoga's case with the Supreme Court's controversial ruling, in Citizens United v. FEC , that corporations are entitled to free speech.
"We are unable to determine that the 'nature, history, and purpose' of the Free Exercise Clause supports the conclusion that for-profit, secular corporations are protected under this particular constitutional provision," Judge Robert Cowen had written for the majority. "Even if we were to disregard the lack of historical recognition of the right, we simply cannot understand how a for-profit, secular corporation-apart from its owners-can exercise religion."
Because Conestoga cannot exercise religion, the court also shot down its claims under the Religious Freedom Reformation Act.
The Supreme Court received Conestoga's petition for a writ of certiorari as well as one from the government in the Hobby Lobby case.
It granted the writs late Tuesday and consolidated the cases, allotting one hour for oral argument.
Conestoga's question to the court asks "whether the religious owners of a family business, or their closely-held, for-profit corporation, have free exercise rights that are violated by the application of the contraceptive-coverage Mandate of the ACA."
The government meanwhile has asked "whether RFRA allows a for-profit corporation to deny its employees the health coverage of contraceptives to which the employees are otherwise entitled by federal law, based on the religious objections of the corporation's owners."
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