Thanks in part to an article written by Lee J. Strang, UT professor of law, Hobby Lobby may no longer be required to offer its employees birth control and emergency contraceptives.
The Greens, a Christian family who owns Hobby Lobby, went to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to protest the Health and Human Services Mandate, which they argue requires employers to go against their religious beliefs to provide health insurance with coverage of contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs.
The Greens claimed that the mandate violates the First Amendment, which states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The Greens also argued that the mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which prohibits laws that substantially burden a person’s free exercise of his or her religion.
Because Hobby Lobby is a corporation, the court had to decide whether or not it was protected by RFRA, and that’s where Strang’s article came into play. His article uncovered the original meaning of “religion” in the First Amendment.
In his article, Strang found that in the draft of the First Amendment, the language changed from “protection of conscience” to “free exercise.” Strang stated that this change made the belief system of religion susceptible to corporate embodiment because while conscience is something only individuals have, exercise may be done by a community of believers.
Unlike other similar court cases challenging the mandate, this one was decided on by all the 10th Circuit judges rather than the usual three — called an “en banc” decision in the legal world. Moreover, unlike other cases so far, the 10th Circuit ruled that the family-owned company should be protected by RFRA.
“This is a major decision that expands who’s protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” Strang said. “It’s not just individuals, it’s not just not-for-profit churches, it’s for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby.”
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is the first to rule in favor of religious protection for a corporation, and Strang’s article was at the heart of its decision.
“It’s gratifying to have American law change in response to something that I’ve researched and written,” Strang said. “Professionally, it’s a validation that what I’ve done is valuable to American legal practice.”