Ready, set, go! Hobby Lobby at the Supremes

Hobby Lobby gets its hearing before the Supreme Court this morning.

This is big, folks.

As the Los Angeles Times describes it:

WASHINGTON — A challenge to part of President Obama's healthcare law that hits the Supreme Court on Tuesday could lead to one of the most significant religious freedom rulings in the high court's history.

USA Today puts it even more dramatically:

WASHINGTON — President Obama's health care law gets a return engagement at the Supreme Court (this week) in a case full of hot-button issues: religious freedom, corporate rights, federal regulation, abortion and contraception.

Put another way, it's a case about God, money, power, sex — and Obamacare.

Nearly two years after the court's 5-4 decision upheld the law and its controversial individual and employer mandates, the justices will consider a different requirement — that companies pay for their workers' birth control.

In a Supreme Court term that has lacked the drama of last year's gay marriage and civil rights cases or the prior term's health care showdown, the so-called "contraception mandate" now commands center stage.

The New York Times characterizes the high stakes this way:

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday will hear arguments in a case that pits religious liberty against women’s rights.

That issue is momentous enough. But it only begins to touch on the potential consequences of the court’s ruling in the case, notably for laws banning discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

The question directly before the justices is whether for-profit corporations must provide insurance coverage for contraception, a requirement of the Affordable Care Act. Hobby Lobby, a chain of crafts stores, challenged the requirement, saying it conflicts with the company’s religious principles.

“If Hobby Lobby were to prevail, the consequences would extend far beyond the issue of contraception,” said Walter Dellinger, a former acting United States solicitor general who filed a brief urging the court to uphold the law.

Like Religion News Service did last week, The Wall Street Journal puts a face on the Green family — billionaire owners of Hobby Lobby — to explain the case:

OKLAHOMA CITY — David Green calls the chain of 560 Hobby Lobby arts-and-crafts stores he founded a religious business.

A 53-employee choir was belting out hymns one recent morning at the headquarters here. Stores close Sundays. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc.'s true owner, Mr. Green says, is God.

That is why Mr. Green will find himself seated in the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday for a landmark religious-freedom case brought by his company.

"I have deeply held convictions," he says "and I should not have to be required by the government to violate my conscience."

Mr. Green says closely held Hobby Lobby can't comply with Affordable Care Act regulations that require it to offer certain contraceptives in employee health plans.

The Obama administration disagrees. In court papers, the federal government says for-profit companies like family owned Hobby Lobby aren't entitled to religious-freedom protections. The Green family's religious beliefs are sincere, it says, but don't trump the law.

Tuesday's Supreme Court hearing will be the second time the health law will be scrutinized by the justices. At issue is whether for-profit companies such as Hobby Lobby are entitled to the same religious protections as people or churches.

If you're wondering how a former GetReligionista might approach the story, here's Mark A. Kellner's lede at the Deseret News National Edition:

WASHINGTON — A legal battle over the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate comes before the U.S. Supreme Court this week to determine whether a for-profit corporation has the same conscience rights as its individual owners do.

Justices will hear oral arguments Tuesday in cases involving the Hobby Lobby craft stores and a smaller business, Conestoga Wood Specialties. The owners of both companies claim complying with the ACA mandate would violate their religious beliefs that prohibit certain contraceptives.

And legal experts say the ruling, expected some time in June, will have implications not just for President Obama's embattled health care reform law, but also for the free exercise of religion in commerce.

At the Washington Post, the headline points to "vocally devout justices set to hear religious objections" to the health-care law. Our own Jim Davis has a separate post critiquing that story.

Meanwhile, for journalists — and ordinary readers — wanting essential background on the case, the Religion Newswriters Association's ReligionLink offers a fresh primer on religious freedom:

Religious freedom has become the broad catchphrase at the heart of today’s biggest culture war issues, ranging from same-sex marriage and gay rights generally to the question of how to accommodate diverse faiths as well as nonbelievers in an increasingly pluralistic American society.

The Obama administration’s contraception coverage mandate is the latest entry in the religious freedom debate, and it will take center stage as the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments on Tuesday (March 25) about whether for-profit corporations can have the religious standing to opt out of providing birth control coverage.

The justices will hear arguments on two cases, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, in which the plaintiffs contend that the religious beliefs of their owners give the corporation as a whole the right to deny health coverage for what the owners say are abortifacient drugs.

Rulings on these cases are expected to be handed down in June, but there is more to come: The high court is likely to hear arguments in the fall from nonprofit faith-based employers who believe that the exemptions and accommodations offered by the administration are not broad enough.

This long-running saga is paralleled by a host of other ongoing, hot-button debates — over the rights of a baker to refuse to make a cake for a gay wedding, for example, or whether a community can deny a building permit to a mosque, or what a military chaplain can say about faith without infringing on the rights of nonbelievers.

This edition of ReligionLink is a source guide on religious freedom in the United States that provides background and resources for reporters covering all of these controversial topics.

Read the full version.

Here at GetReligion, we'll be monitoring the Supreme Court arguments and, of course, the media coverage. If you see examples of excellent journalism on this case — or the reverse — please be sure to share links and insight in the comments section of this post. And feel free to weigh in on the pros and cons of the stories highlighted above.

In case we didn't mention it earlier (smile): This is big, folks.

Ready, set, go!

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