WASHINGTON -- A mid-1980s Minnesota legal case was mentioned by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her dissent of the Supreme Court’s decision Monday to let family-owned companies refuse contraceptive coverage to women based on their religious objections to birth control.
Ginsburg argued that the decision opens the way for family-owned businesses to discriminate widely based on religious beliefs. She cited the 1985 Minnesota case of a chain of for-profit health clubs whose “born-again Christian owners” claimed the Bible prohibited them from employing couples people living together out of wedlock, single women working without their father’s consent and married women working without their husband’s permission, as well as “fornicators and homosexuals.”
“Would the [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] require exemptions in cases of this ilk?” Ginsburg asked in the dissent, referring to 1993 law seen as conflicting with the Affordable Care Act. “And if not, how does the court divine which religious beliefs are worthy of accommodation, and which are not?”
In 1985, a Minnesota court ruled that a company called Sports and Health Club Inc., was not exempt from liability under a state anti-discrimination law for refusing to hire workers who did not conform to its owner’s religious beliefs.
Monday’s 5-4 decision was the first time the Supreme Court has ruled that profit-seeking businesses can hold religious views under federal law.
The court stressed that its ruling applies only to corporations that are under the control of just a few people in which there is no essential difference between the business and its owners. An Oklahoma-based chain of 600 arts-and-craft stores called Hobby Lobby challenged a provision in the new federal health law requiring that they cover contraceptives for women.
Corporate health benefits consultants expect little impact from the ruling, however. Publicly-traded companies, in particular, are unlikely to impose religious views on benefits provided to their employees.