The Supreme Court will hear two important cases next Tuesday that could have major repercussions on the Affordable Care Act. The decision reached could all come down to a semi-colon in the context of the First Amendment.
That very argument in the appeals court has led to the showdown Tuesday at the Supreme Court.
Circuit Court Judge Robert Cowan’s appeals court decision said, The case reads, “Appellants also argue that Citizens United is applicable to the Free Exercise of religion Clause because the authors of the First Amendment only separated the Free Exercise Clause and the Free Speech Clause by a semi-colon, thus showing the continuation of intent between the two. We are not persuaded that the use of a semi-colon means that each clause of the First Amendment must be interpreted jointly.”
The interpretation is the semi-colon argument holds that the free exercise of religion and free exercise of speech are linked. The Citizens United case provided corporations the same free speech rights as people. Thus, corporations should have the same free religious exercise rights as people, too.
That means opting out of Obamacare altogether. Judge Cowen wasn’t moved by the argument, but now it will be argued at the Supreme Court this week.
One of the cases questions the government’s ability to compel for-profit companies with religious convictions to pay for birth-control coverage. In Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., the national hobby and crafts chain store asked the Court to take on the birth control mandate that applies to for-profit companies.
Ironically, the Obama administration also had asked the Court to take up the Hobby Lobby case. They may regret that decision.
The issue is whether the company is protected under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which says the government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless that burden satisfies strict scrutiny. The company, Hobby Lobby, portrays themselves as a family-owned company with their religious rights being violated by Obamacare.
Attorney Paul Clement will represent Hobby Lobby while Solicitor General Donald Verrilli will be his opposition. Both are veterans of other related Obamacare cases.
The Supreme Court could set a precedent that would allow some companies to opt out of the employer mandate, but the court will not rule on the constitutionality of the law.
The Obama administration has now delayed the employer mandate by a year or two, depending on the size of the company.
The Hobby Lobby decision could redefine the First Amendment.
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