Instant analysis: Understanding Hobby Lobby

The Church and religious liberty were handed a victory this morning by way of a 5-4 decision from the Supreme Court ruling that, under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, “closely-held” for-profit companies “cannot be required to provide contraception coverage.”

The specific “closely held” corporations in question were the family-run arts and crafts chain store Hobby Lobby and the also family-operated manufacturer Conestoga Wood Specialties.

The decision, which included Justices Roberts, Alito, Kennedy, Scalia and Thomas in the majority, is a solid win for religious liberty in the United States in the continuing fight against the contraception mandate issued by the Department of Health and Human Services in August 2011 as part of the Affordable Care Act.

The court declared that the contraceptive mandate “substantially burdens the exercise of religion” and that the government “failed to show that the contraceptive mandate is the least restrictive means of furthering” across-the-board access to birth control.

But while this is a win for certain for-profit companies, nonprofit corporations continue to wait and see how the decision will affect their cases. Entities like Our Sunday Visitor and the Little Sisters of the Poor, for example, wait to see what role the “accommodation” offered to religious organizations by the Obama administration in February 2013 will play.

According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, 51 nonprofit and 49 for-profit cases are making their way through the courts. As the nonprofit cases — such as Little Sisters of the Poor — continue to climb their way to the Supreme Court (where they likely will be reviewed next term), the for-profits will be examined by lower courts in light of today’s rulings.

The Court’s decision particularly is timely in light of tomorrow’s date of July 1 — the deadline imposed by HHS for organizations to comply with the mandate — and in light of the ongoing Fortnight for Freedom promoted by the U.S. bishops.

For more on the decision, continue to visit and look for complete coverage in the July 13 issue.

Gretchen R. Crowe is editor of OSV Newsweekly. Follow her on Twitter @GretchenOSV.