(UNDATED) - An IU law professor says cases over Obamacare's contraceptive mandate will pit previous Supreme Court rulings against a religious freedom law passed more than two decades ago.
Oral arguments are scheduled for this morning in challenges to the health care law, the best known of which is from Hobby Lobby.
The family-owned craft store argues that in being forced to provide insurance coverage for its employees that includes birth control, it is being forced to violate its religious beliefs, since Hobby Lobby's executives consider certain forms of birth control the equivalent of abortion.
In a separate challenge also to be heard today, a cabinet company from Pennsylvania owned by Mennonites makes a claim similar to that of Hobby Lobby.
David Orentlicher, a professor at IU's McKinney School of Law, says the Supreme Court ruled against religious freedom overriding a broad public interest in at least two past cases.
In 1990, the court ruled that the state of Oregon could deny unemployment benefits to a person who was fired for violating a state ban on the smoking of peyote, even though use of the drug was part of a Native American religious ritual.
In 1982, the court ruled unanimously against an Amish farmer who was not paying Social Security taxes for his employees, claiming his religion taught him that the community took care of the elderly, not the government.
What could be at stake today is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993.
"It was passed in response to the peyote ruling to say even though the Constitution doesn't give you this kind of protection, we want through a federal statute to protect your religious expression," said Orentlicher. He adds that Hobby Lobby is specifically challenging the Obamacare mandate under that law rather than making a First Amendment religious freedom argument.
Critics of Hobby Lobby argue that corporations cannot inherently have religious freedom as have individuals. But Orentlicher says that might have changed with another recent court ruling.
"We have seen that the court has recognized corporations as persons for some purposes. We know this for freedom of speech because that's what the Citizens United campaign finance case was all about."
Orentlicher says it also comes down to whether the court believes that providing contraceptives is a compelling public interest.
"Then, the question is if the government does have an important interest in making sure contraceptive services are available, can they do it without interfering without interfering with the religious rights of companies."
A federal appeals court sided with Hobby Lobby in June 2013, but a separate appeals court ruled against the Pennsylvania company.
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