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Continued: Hobby Lobby case empowers millions of businesses to sue government, experts say

  • Article by: JIM SPENCER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: July 6, 2014 - 11:54 AM

Minnesota-based Cargill, one of the world’s biggest private companies with $136 billion in annual revenues and 140,000 employees, is legally considered a closely held business.

In an e-mail to the Star Tribune, company spokesman Tim Loesch said Cargill covers female birth control in employees’ health insurance and will continue to do so.

Still, the Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case could conceivably be applied to millions of businesses, agreed Swanson, Matheson, Kleinberger and Olsen. Its impact will be determined by how many of those companies choose to challenge government mandates.

“A lot more companies with religious beliefs will be able to sue under the decision,” Olsen said. But most companies “don’t allow personal religious beliefs to get in the way of making money.”

Though he expects no flood of new litigation, Kaardal thinks the decision extends beyond birth control to other sincerely held principles of faith that may run counter to law or public policy.

Kleinberger agreed, but said that is only the first step.

“The decision says a small group of closely related people does not have their personal religious beliefs negated by forming a company,” Kleinberger said. “Then, the analysis begins.”

Expanded meaning

That analysis, carried out in courts, determines if a “compelling state interest” exists to keep the business owners from acting on their beliefs. The Hobby Lobby ruling doesn’t say women have no right to contraception, Kleinberger maintained, but “implies that there is not a compelling state interest in requiring individuals [with religious objections] to provide contraceptive coverage.”

While Kaardal calls that “the exciting part of the decision,” Borchelt sees it as “disturbing.”

The court, she said, was “very deferential” in taking people’s word about religious beliefs that could shield them from all sorts of government rules.

In dissenting from the 5-4 decision, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wondered if the new legal interpretation would allow businesses to use religious beliefs to choose whom they employ and whom they serve.

She cited a 1985 Minnesota case in which “born-again Christians who owned closely held, for-profit health clubs” believed the Bible forbade them from hiring couples who lived together outside of marriage, women who did not have their father’s or husband’s permission to work and “fornicators and homosexuals.”

The club’s owners lost that case when the Minnesota Supreme Court decided public interest outweighed individual rights.

More problematic are religiously rooted beliefs that could have an impact on employees’ health. If owners of a closely held business don’t believe in vaccinations for religious reasons, would they have to pay for that coverage in employees’ health insurance? Ginsburg asked in her dissent.

Hamline’s Olsen thought not. The Hobby Lobby decision says the government cannot force businesses to pay for something that violates owners’ religious principles.

“If giving you an [intrauterine device] is not required,” Olsen reasoned, “giving you a vaccination is not required.”

Kleinberger believes companies would have to pay.

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