October 02, 2014 · 8 Tishrei

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Reform Movement Decries Supreme Court Ruling in Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood

Rabbis Jacobs, Fox, Feldman and Saperstein: "We urgently call now on the Administration to ensure that all women without contraceptive coverage because of religious objections of their employers - including groups totally exempt under the ACA such as houses of worship - be covered by whatever means necessary."

Contact: Max Rosenblum or Sarah Greenberg
202.387.2800 | news@rac.org

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 30, 2014 -- On the occasion of today's 5-4 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties, Corp. v. Burwell, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Steve Fox, CEO of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Rabbi Marla J. Feldman, Executive Director of Women of Reform Judaism, and Rabbi David Saperstein, Director and Counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, jointly released the following statement:

The Supreme Court's ruling today in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and in Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell is a disappointing setback for civil rights, women's equality, and health care in the United States. We support a vigorous interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), but bemoan the Supreme Court's decision today, which, in ascribing the same religious free exercise rights to closely-held for-profit corporations that are essential to individuals and religious associations, allows countless numbers of corporations to limit women's access to reproductive healthcare that those women seek. We also acknowledge the Court making clear that this ruling applies only to the contraception mandate and does not provide for exemptions for coverage of other health care needs or from statutes barring illegal discrimination. Yet, the Court's ruling that the protections offered by RFRA apply to closely-held corporations in regards to the contraception mandate under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), despite the effort of the majority to limit this decision, has the impact, as Justice Ginsburg has argued, of broadly framing the religious liberty claims of corporations such that corporations down the line could seek exemption from civil rights laws and health insurance requirements, possibly eviscerating these much-needed safeguards.

Our Reform Movement's proud legacy of fighting for civil rights and social justice includes defending both religious freedom and the separation of church and state. To this end, we played a key role in passing RFRA in the 1990s. As people of faith, we are deeply concerned that the Court has failed to recognize a notable difference between the religious rights of individuals and of these corporate entities. The families who own Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood made an intentional decision to incorporate their businesses and thus to avail themselves of unique corporate law protections, the critical one being the establishment of a legal distance between the corporation as an entity and the individuals who own it. The respondents now want for their corporations both the benefits of the corporate structure and to retain for the corporation the rights and protections that individuals enjoy.

We believe that the contraception rule established by the ACA wisely and delicately balanced religious liberty and conscience claims, whether they are made by the employer or the employees. The ACA's distinctions between faith-based non-profits and all for-profit corporations reflected religious exemptions in existing law, such as in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

This ruling also presents a significant obstacle to women's equality and health. All women must have the right to make their own health care choices according to their faith and conscience - including when it comes to reproductive health. In finding that the contraception mandate constitutes a substantial burden on the free exercise rights of these closely-held corporations, the Court denies the religious liberty of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood's employees and denies the compelling interest of ensuring all women have access to reproductive health care. We urgently call now on the Administration to ensure that all women without contraceptive coverage because of religious objections of their employers - including groups totally exempt under the ACA such as houses of worship - be covered by whatever means necessary.

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.3 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 2,000 Reform rabbis. Visit www.rac.org for more.



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