Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., Nos. 13–354

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtJustice ALITO delivered the opinion of the Court.
Citation134 S.Ct. 2751,189 L.Ed.2d 675,573 U.S. 682
Decision Date30 June 2014
Docket NumberNos. 13–354,13–356.
Parties Sylvia BURWELL, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al., Petitioners v. HOBBY LOBBY STORES, INC., et al. Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation et al., Petitioners v. Sylvia Burwell, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al.

573 U.S. 682
134 S.Ct.
2751
189 L.Ed.2d 675

Sylvia BURWELL, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al., Petitioners
v.
HOBBY LOBBY STORES, INC., et al.

Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation et al., Petitioners
v.
Sylvia Burwell, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al.

Nos. 13–354
13–356.

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued March 25, 2014.
Decided June 30, 2014.


Paul D. Clement, Washington, DC, for the private parties.

Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., Solicitor General, for the federal government.

Paul D. Clement, Michael H. McGinley, Bancroft PLLC, Washington, DC, Peter M. Dobelbower, General Counsel and Chief Legal Officer, Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., Oklahoma City, OK, S. Kyle Duncan, Counsel of Record, Eric C. Rassbach, Luke W. Goodrich, Hannah C. Smith, Mark L. Rienzi, Lori H. Windham, Adèle Auxier Keim, The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Washington, DC, Joshua D. Hawley, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, counsel for Respondents.

Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., Solicitor General, Counsel of Record, Stuart F. Delery, Assistant Attorney General, Ian Heath Gershengorn, Edwin S. Kneedler, Deputy Solicitors General, Joseph R. Palmore, Assistant to the Solicitor General, Mark B. Stern, Alisa B. Klein, Washington, DC, for Petitioners.

Jordan W. Lorence, Steven H. Aden, Gregory S. Baylor, Matthew S. Bowman, Alliance Defending Freedom, Washington, DC, David A. Cortman, Counsel of Record, Kevin H. Theriot, Rory T. Gray, Alliance Defending Freedom, Lawrenceville, GA, Charles W. Proctor, III, Law Offices of Proctor, Lindsay & Dixon, Chadds Ford, PA, Randall L. Wenger, Independence Law Center, Harrisburg, PA, for Petitioners Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation et al.

134 S.Ct. 2759

Justice ALITO delivered the opinion of the Court.

573 U.S. 688

We must decide in these cases whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), 107 Stat. 1488,

573 U.S. 689

42 U.S.C. § 2000bb et seq ., permits the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to demand that three closely held corporations provide health-insurance coverage for methods of contraception that violate the sincerely

573 U.S. 690

held religious beliefs of the companies' owners. We hold that the regulations that impose this obligation violate RFRA, which prohibits the Federal Government from taking any action that substantially burdens the exercise of religion

573 U.S. 691

unless that action constitutes the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest.

In holding that the HHS mandate is unlawful, we reject HHS's argument that the owners of the companies forfeited all RFRA protection when they decided to organize their businesses as corporations rather than sole proprietorships or general partnerships. The plain terms of RFRA make it perfectly clear that Congress did not discriminate in this way against men and women who wish to run their businesses as for-profit corporations in the manner required by their religious beliefs.

Since RFRA applies in these cases, we must decide whether the challenged HHS regulations substantially burden the exercise of religion, and we hold that they do. The owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients. If the owners comply with the HHS mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions, and if they do not comply, they will pay a very heavy price—as much as $1.3 million per day, or about $475 million per year, in the case of one of the companies. If these consequences do not amount to a substantial burden, it is hard to see what would.

Under RFRA, a Government action that imposes a substantial burden on religious exercise must serve a compelling government interest, and we assume that the HHS regulations

573 U.S. 692

satisfy this requirement. But in order for the HHS mandate to be sustained, it must also constitute the least restrictive means of serving that interest, and the mandate plainly fails that test. There are other ways in which Congress or HHS could equally ensure that every woman has cost-free access to the particular contraceptives at issue here and, indeed, to all FDA-approved contraceptives.

In fact, HHS has already devised and implemented a system that seeks to respect the religious liberty of religious nonprofit corporations while ensuring that the employees of these entities have precisely the same access to all FDA-approved contraceptives as employees of companies whose owners have no religious objections to providing such coverage. The employees of these religious nonprofit corporations still have access to insurance coverage without cost sharing for all FDA-approved contraceptives; and according to HHS, this system imposes no net economic burden on the insurance companies that are required to provide or secure the coverage.

Although HHS has made this system available to religious nonprofits that have religious objections to the contraceptive mandate, HHS has provided no reason why the same system cannot be made available when the owners of for-profit corporations have similar religious objections. We therefore conclude that this system constitutes an alternative that achieves all of the Government's aims while providing greater respect for religious liberty. And under RFRA, that conclusion means that enforcement of the

134 S.Ct. 2760

HHS contraceptive mandate against the objecting parties in these cases is unlawful.

As this description of our reasoning shows, our holding is very specific. We do not hold, as the principal dissent alleges, that for-profit corporations and other commercial enterprises can "opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs."

573 U.S. 693

Post, at 2787 (opinion of GINSBURG, J.). Nor do we hold, as the dissent implies, that such corporations have free rein to take steps that impose " disadvantages ... on others" or that require "the general public [to] pick up the tab." Post, at 2787. And we certainly do not hold or suggest that " RFRA demands accommodation of a for-profit corporation's religious beliefs no matter the impact that accommodation may have on ... thousands of women employed by Hobby Lobby." Post, at 2787.1 The effect of the HHS-created accommodation on the women employed by Hobby Lobby and the other companies involved in these cases would be precisely zero. Under that accommodation, these women would still be entitled to all FDA-approved contraceptives without cost sharing.

I

A

Congress enacted RFRA in 1993 in order to provide very broad protection for religious liberty. RFRA's enactment came three years after this Court's decision in Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Ore. v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872, 110 S.Ct. 1595, 108 L.Ed.2d 876 (1990), which largely repudiated the method of analyzing free-exercise claims that had been used in cases like Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 83 S.Ct. 1790, 10 L.Ed.2d 965 (1963), and Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 92 S.Ct. 1526, 32 L.Ed.2d 15 (1972). In determining whether challenged government actions violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, those decisions used a balancing test that took into account whether the challenged action imposed a substantial burden on the practice of religion, and if it did, whether it was needed to serve a compelling government interest. Applying this test, the Court held in Sherbert that an employee who was fired for refusing to work on her Sabbath could not be denied unemployment benefits.

573 U.S. 694

374 U.S., at 408–409, 83 S.Ct. 1790. And in Yoder , the Court held that Amish children could not be required to comply with a state law demanding that they remain in school until the age of 16 even though their religion required them to focus on uniquely Amish values and beliefs during their formative adolescent years. 406 U.S., at 210–211, 234–236, 92 S.Ct. 1526.

In Smith, however, the Court rejected "the balancing test set forth in Sherbert ." 494 U.S., at 883, 110 S.Ct. 1595. Smith concerned two members of the Native American Church who were fired for ingesting peyote for sacramental purposes. When they sought unemployment benefits, the State of Oregon rejected their claims on the ground that consumption of peyote was a crime, but the Oregon Supreme Court, applying the Sherbert test, held that the denial of benefits violated the Free Exercise Clause. 494 U.S., at 875, 110 S.Ct. 1595.

This Court then reversed, observing that use of the Sherbert test whenever a person objected on religious grounds to the enforcement of a generally applicable law "would open the prospect of constitutionally

134 S.Ct. 2761

required religious exemptions...

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318 practice notes
  • Mei Xing Yu v. Hasaki Rest., Inc., No. 17-3388-cv
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • December 6, 2019
    ...the statute is ambiguous, and, indeed, is commonplace in the opinions of the High Court. See, e.g. , Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. , 573 U.S. 682, 693-96, 134 S.Ct. 2751, 189 L.Ed.2d 675 (2014) ; Hinck v. United States , 550 U.S. 501, 503-07, 127 S.Ct. 2011, 167 L.Ed.2d 888 (2007) ; B......
  • Legacy Church, Inc. v. Kunkel, No. CIV 20-0327 JB\SCY
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    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • April 17, 2020
    ...in a 2013 case, Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius, 723 F.3d 1114 (10th Cir. 2013), aff'd sub nom. Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 573 U.S. 682, 134 S.Ct. 2751, 189 L.Ed.2d 675 (2014), the Tenth Circuit characterized its precedent as holding "that establishing a likely RFRA violation......
  • Woods v. Seattle's Union Gospel Mission, No. 96132-8
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • March 4, 2021
    ...and prohibitions on racial discrimination are precisely tailored to achieve that critical goal." Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. , 573 U.S. 682, 733, 134 S. Ct. 2751, 189 L. Ed. 2d 675 (2014). The same result applies here. Preventing employment discrimination based on sexual orientation......
  • Rhode v. Becerra, Case No.: 18-cv-802-BEN
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • April 23, 2020
    ...rights. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sibelius , 723 F.3d 1114, 1145 (10th Cir. 2013), aff'd sub nom., Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. , 573 U.S. 682, 134 S. Ct. 2751, 189 L.Ed.2d 675 (2014) ; Doe v. Harris , 772 F.3d at 583 (quoting Sammartano v. First Judicial Dist. Court , 303 F.3d 959......
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287 cases
  • Mei Xing Yu v. Hasaki Rest., Inc., No. 17-3388-cv
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • December 6, 2019
    ...the statute is ambiguous, and, indeed, is commonplace in the opinions of the High Court. See, e.g. , Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. , 573 U.S. 682, 693-96, 134 S.Ct. 2751, 189 L.Ed.2d 675 (2014) ; Hinck v. United States , 550 U.S. 501, 503-07, 127 S.Ct. 2011, 167 L.Ed.2d 888 (2007) ; B......
  • Legacy Church, Inc. v. Kunkel, No. CIV 20-0327 JB\SCY
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • April 17, 2020
    ...in a 2013 case, Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius, 723 F.3d 1114 (10th Cir. 2013), aff'd sub nom. Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 573 U.S. 682, 134 S.Ct. 2751, 189 L.Ed.2d 675 (2014), the Tenth Circuit characterized its precedent as holding "that establishing a likely RFRA violation......
  • Woods v. Seattle's Union Gospel Mission, No. 96132-8
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • March 4, 2021
    ...and prohibitions on racial discrimination are precisely tailored to achieve that critical goal." Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. , 573 U.S. 682, 733, 134 S. Ct. 2751, 189 L. Ed. 2d 675 (2014). The same result applies here. Preventing employment discrimination based on sexual orientation......
  • Rhode v. Becerra, Case No.: 18-cv-802-BEN
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • April 23, 2020
    ...rights. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sibelius , 723 F.3d 1114, 1145 (10th Cir. 2013), aff'd sub nom., Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. , 573 U.S. 682, 134 S. Ct. 2751, 189 L.Ed.2d 675 (2014) ; Doe v. Harris , 772 F.3d at 583 (quoting Sammartano v. First Judicial Dist. Court , 303 F.3d 959......
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10 books & journal articles
  • ESTABLISHMENT'S POLITICAL PRIORITY TO FREE EXERCISE.
    • United States
    • Notre Dame Law Review Vol. 97 Nbr. 2, January 2022
    • January 1, 2022
    ...(143) Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania, 140 S. Ct. 2367 (2020); Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 573 U.S. 682 (144) Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Golo. C.R Comm'n, 138 S. Ct. 1719 (2018); Suite v. Arlene's Flowers, Inc., 441 P.3d 1203 (Wash. 2019). (......
  • Born-Again RFRA: Will the Military Backslide on its Religious Conversion?
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    • Missouri Law Review Vol. 87 Nbr. 2, March 2022
    • March 22, 2022
    ...(last visited Feb. 6, 2022). (131) See ACKERMAN, supra note 128, at 20-22. (132) See Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 573 U.S. 682, 692 (133) Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal, 546 U.S. 418, 430-31 (2006) (quoting [section] 2000bb-1(b)). (134) See 42 U.S.C. [sec......
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    • American Bankruptcy Law Journal Vol. 96 Nbr. 3, September 2022
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    ...to regular interstate travel). (44) Shelley, 344 U.S. at 18-21. (45) See infra Part III. (46) See Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 573 U.S. 682, 707 (47) See City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507, 536 (1997). (48) See, eg., Tanzin v. Tanvir, 141 S. Ct. 486, 489 (2020) (involving FBI ag......
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    ...were “persons” under RFRA and that the mandate burdened their “exercise of religion.”122 115. Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 573 U.S. 682 (2014). 116. Id. at 702-03. 117. Id. at 708-10. 118. Id. at 696-98. 119. The two for-prof‌it corporations cases, Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebeli......
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