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United States Supreme Court to Consider Whether Private Corporations Have Religious Beliefs

The United States Supreme Court recently agreed to hear the case concerning whether corporate employers are required to provide free birth control, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), even if their “consciences” do not support it. While religious institutions and non-profits are exempt from this provision, this case will test whether private corporations are “people” enough to have religious convictions that trump the needs of their employees. Oral arguments are expected to take place in March 2014.

cross-with-shadow-1-1356536-m.jpgThe Supreme Court agreed to hear the argument after the Circuit Courts of Appeal offered split decisions on the issue — including the Seventh Circuit in early November. In Korte v. Sebelius, a two-judge majority found that small, closely held corporations were “people” within the meaning of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and were entitled to assert that the mandate substantially interfered with their rights.

The case involved two Catholic families with closely held corporations, one a construction company in Illinois and the other a manufacturing company in Indiana that produces automobile safety systems. Although the companies are both secular and devoted to earning profit, the Seventh Circuit still noted that they operated according to their owners’ Catholic beliefs. Therefore, the owners should not have to condone “abortion, sterilization, and the use of abortifacient drugs and artificial means of conception.”

The contraceptives requirements is part of the ACA preventative services mandate that requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide health plans covering contraceptive drugs, including emergency contraceptives, at no cost to the employees. The Seventh Circuit joins the Tenth Circuit in finding that the contraception provision violates private employers’ religious freedom. Meanwhile, the Sixth Circuit and the Third Circuit found the opposite, which was that corporations are not persons with religious rights. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals split up the middle, finding that while corporations themselves could not challenge the mandate, their owners could.

If the Supreme Court agrees with the Seventh Circuit, as opposed to the Sixth Circuit and the other courts claiming that corporations have no religious rights, a concerning precedent could be set. If employers can run private, for-profit corporations according to their religious beliefs, then they could potentially discriminate against their employees in a number of ways. What if one company’s religious beliefs compel it to restrict female employees from certain positions, on the basis that women were inferior to men? Or what if a company’s religious beliefs compelled it to require that all employees take part in a prayer, or had to be part of a specific religion? How would these religious beliefs clash with federal anti-discrimination laws like Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act? Finding that corporations have religious beliefs could unleash unlimited problems that affect employees’ lives. In the meantime, discrimination and workplace abuses are often tough enough to stop as is. If you live in Kentucky or Indiana and have been discriminated against, contact an experienced Kentucky or Indiana employment discrimination attorney.

Miller & Falkner is a plaintiffs law firm serving residents of Kentucky and Indiana. Located in Louisville, Kentucky, the firm provides representation in the areas of personal injury and employment law. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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