As we're discussing a legal case here, it would be worth actually looking at the legal context rather than leaping at spurious claims.
The central part of this case is whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA for simplicity) was breached by making these companies offer birth control to their employees under ACA.
The RFRA states that:
(a) In general
Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except as provided in subsection (b) of this section.
Government may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person—
(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and
(2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.
So, does ACA substantially burden a person's exercise of religion? I think the answer here is clearly yes. Whether one agrees with it or not (and I don't) one cannot deny that the opposition to birth control in these cases is part of a legitimate religious belief held by the owners. As such if they were to exercise their religion (i.e. not fund birth control) they would be liable for the fines of up to $1.3 million per day for one of the companies. That is pretty much the perfect definition of a burden on religious exercise.
So we turn to the exceptions:
1) Compelling governmental interest
It was pretty much accepted by default by all the parties that there was a compelling governmental interest behind ACA and thus this point was accepted by all.
2) Least restrictive
For a law which substantially burden's a persons religion not to fall foul of RFRA it must not only fulfill a compelling governmental interest but be the least restrictive way of doing so. Here is where the issue arrives because there are multiple ways that the government could allow access to birth control for women which wouldn't require a substantial burden on people's exercise of religion. The fact that there is a system to allow staff members of religious non-profit organisations the same access to birth control as companies where there are no religious objections involved without cost sharing and the government has said this imposes no net economic burden on insurers shows that there is an obvious alternative that has already been put in place and there is no reason why this could not have been extended to cover the companies in this case.
Thus under RFRA, the ACA provisions regarding birth control are
a substantial burden on the exercise of religion and, while they do
fulfill a compelling governmental interest, they are not
the least restrictive way of fulfilling that interest; the government itself has set up an alternative system that wouldn't be a substantial burden on the exercise of religion and doesn't create any net economic burden.
So, on the face of it, it's a pretty cut and dry case.
The only real further issue is the question of whether for-profit companies such as those in question have standing under the RFRA. The RFRA applies to "persons"; does that include a for-profit corporation?
The answer is incredibly simple:
The RFRA doesn't define "person" within it. Thus, the definition and interpretation of that term are dealt with under the Dictionary Act, the relevant parts of which are quoted in previous posts. To repeat them again (emphasis mine):
the words “person” and “whoever” include corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals.
Thus corporations and the like are explicitly included. If the government hadn't wished for the RFRA to cover companies then it should have defined "person" within the act to exclude them (in the same way it has included alternative definitions of "person" in other acts). It didn't, thus companies are covered by RFRA and thus have standing.
Having seen that a company can have standing under RFRA, we must then ask whether a company itself can exercise religion (and thus be burdened) as opposed to the employees/owners of the company exercising their religion (noting that the employees/owners wouldn't have standing to bring this case as formally ACA applies to the company, not to them). This point is somewhat dead in the water; in Braunfeld v. Brown incorporated merchants were allowed protection under the RFRA (although they lost the case on the merits) so it has already been accepted that a company itself can exercise religion. Likewise there are multiple cases of non-profits being allowed RFRA protection; Valthazar has mentioned one but you could also look to Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church
and School or Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. In the case at hand the government explicitly accepted that a non-profit could be viewed as a person under the RFRA and exercise religion but suggested that a for-profit corporation couldn't.
It's hard to see how this point can stand. There is nothing within either the RFRA or Dictionary Act that separates out for-profit and non-profit organisations and, to quote a case which touched on interpretation; “To give the same words a different meaning for each category would be to invent a statute rather than interpret one”
. If non-profits are viewed as people capable of exercising religion under the RFRA (which the government accepts) then the corporate form alone is not enough to stop a for-profit corporation being one.
Is it the "for profit" part then? In the case of Smith the court held that “exercise of religion” involves “not only belief and profession but the performance of (or abstention from) physical acts” that are “engaged in for religious reasons.” I cannot see why business practices that are compelled by religious reasons don't fall within that. The principle reason put forward for why a non-profit could be viewed as a person and exercise religion but a for-profit couldn't was that a religious non-profit has been created to "perpetuate the religious values shared by a community of believers" while a for-profit has been created to "use labor to make a profit". Again, I cannot see how this objection holds up. In the states in question (and as far as I'm aware pretty much all states) a corporation can be formed for any lawful business or purpose; the decision to incorporate in a for-profit form does not mean that a company is forced to only look for profit as it's purpose. The companies in question here explicitly point to their religious values as part of their corporate identity; Conestoga’s values and vision statement states that it is dedicated to operating "in a manner that reflects our Christian heritage and the highest ethical and moral principles of business
” while Hobby Lobby's statement of purpose
states that it is committed to "Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.
I think we all accept that a for-profit company can pursue objectives that are not simply profit driven. I think pretty much all of us support that as well. A for-profit company that gives to charity, goes beyond the legal requirement for green or environmental issues or offers more generous benefits and pay than legally required are a few obvious examples (all of which almost certainly negatively impact on profits) of clearly pursuing an objective that is not purely profit driven. If a for-profit corporation can pursue those objectives I cannot see why it cannot attempt to fulfill religious objectives as well.